New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has won Nevada's Democratic caucuses, giving her two early contest wins over her rivals for her party's presidential nomination.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama ran a strong second, with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards finishing a distant third.
"I guess this is how the West was won," Clinton told cheering supporters in Las Vegas. The victory was her second straight, coming after an upset win in the New Hampshire primary.
More than 120,000 Democrats — nearly one-third of all of Nevada's registered Democrats and 10 times the number of Nevadans who participated in 2004 — showed up at 520 precincts around the state. This marks the first year Nevada has held an early presidential contest.
Voters told NPR that the economy was the most important issues on their minds, including job stability and the high number of foreclosures in the state.
Exit polls conducted by the Associated Press and TV networks show that Clinton received the support of female voters, Latinos and senior citizens— winning despite the fact that two major union endorsements went to rivals Obama and Edwards.
Nearly half of Nevada Democrats surveyed in exit polls said they were looking for someone who can make changes. Clinton overwhelmed Obama among the quarter of Nevada Democrats looking for a candidate with the right experience.
Nevadans gathered Saturday in high schools, casinos and cowboy bars for the state's first early presidential caucuses.
As caucus-goers waited to register, candidates worked the long lines, shaking hands and taking photos with supporters. Former President Bill Clinton brought along daughter Chelsea to hand out buttons and fliers to union workers and urge them to support his wife. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama had already received the endorsement of the culinary workers' union, which has roughly 60,000 members.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards left Nevada Friday to focus on other primary contests, after a week of feverish campaigning in the Silver State. Although he came in third in the caucuses, he secured the support of United Brotherhood of Carpenters, as well as the United Steelworkers.
Nine hotels and casinos had been designated as Democratic caucus sites, in a move aimed at making it easier for casino workers to participate. The state Democratic Party let the culinary workers' union, which has endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, choose the sites. The decision was challenged in court by the state teachers' union, which argued that the sites unfairly favor Obama. Ultimately, the court decided the sites were acceptable.
In the days leading up the Nevada caucuses, a Reno Gazette-Journal poll showed Clinton, Edwards and Obama in a statistical dead heat: Obama with 32 percent, Clinton with 30 percent and Edwards with 27 percent.
But Clinton spent little time savoring her victory in Nevada.
The candidates scattered Saturday afternoon to other campaign spots to prepare for upcoming primaries. Next on the calendar is the South Carolina Democratic primary on Jan. 26.
From NPR staff reports and the Associated Press.