Close Race for Democrats

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A look at the specifics of Saturday's Democratic caucuses and the close contest between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama. Expect the intense rivalry to continue.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton wound up a long day yesterday in St. Louis, Missouri celebrating a win in caucuses held the same day in Nevada.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): What they did showed exactly how the West was won, and we were able to do that together earlier today. But now, we're back here in the Midwest where I'm from. And I'm so happy to see all of you.

HANSEN: In Nevada's caucuses, Clinton topped Barack Obama by about 6 percentage points. But because of the way Nevada awards delegates by districts, Obama could end up with one more Nevada delegate at the Democratic convention.

NPR's Scott Horsley explains.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama came in the Nevada with one big win apiece. It was billed as a rubber match, and their supporters knew it.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Group #1: Hillary, Hillary, Hillary…

Unidentified Group #2: Obama, Obama, Obama…

HORSLEY: At this special caucus on the Las Vegas Strip yesterday, casino workers run a friendly gauntlet of their co-workers, urging them to take sides. When these caucus-goers were counted, Clinton had emerged the winner.

Unidentified Woman: One eighty-one for Clinton and 156 Obama.

(Soundbite of cheering)

HORSLEY: That same pattern held statewide. Clinton later thanked her staff at the Planet Hollywood and looked ahead to the upcoming contests, next Saturday in South Carolina and in nearly two dozen states on February 5th.

Sen. CLINTON: We will build on what we achieved here today and continue to make it clear here in Nevada and across the West that the Democrats - we're the problem solvers.

HORSLEY: One problem for Clinton is that Obama may actually come out of Nevada with one more national delegate than she got. Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe explains.

Mr. DAVID PLOUFFE (Campaign Manager for Senator Barack Obama): Well, the reason for that is Barack Obama did well throughout the state of Nevada, in the northern part of the state and in the rural parts of the state, which I think speaks to his ability. Down the line in the primary process here, I also once again as a demonstration of how strong a general election candidate he would be.

HORSLEY: Nevada won't formerly assign its nominating delegates until April. Entrance poll suggests Obama drew 80 percent of the black vote in Nevada, which could be a good sign for his chances in South Carolina, while Clinton won support from about two-thirds of Latino voters who could play a big role on February 5th. John Edwards vows he'll fight on. USC political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe says the Democrats have entered a sustained period of competition.

Professor SHERRY BEBITCH JEFFE (Political Analyst, University Southern California School of Policy): Quite frankly, I'm loving every minute of it.

HORSLEY: The close contest has also energized voters, leading to a record turnout in Nevada and elsewhere. Jeffe says, suddenly, the process mean something to people.

Prof. JEFFE: A wide-open race means people are paying more attention because there is the possibility of getting something out of it.

HORSLEY: Both Clinton and Obama got something out of Nevada, and by tomorrow, they'll both be back on the campaign trail.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Las Vegas.

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