Hillary Clinton topped Barack Obama Saturday in a bitterly contested Nevada Democratic caucus, as the New York senator showed broad appeal to women, Hispanics, liberal Democrats and voters concerned about the economy.
With 69 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton had 51 percent to Obama's 45 percent.
In the Republican caucus, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney easily beat his rivals, hardly a surprise because virtually no other GOP candidates competed there.
The Democratic contests was a classic party struggle between groups that are crucial to any potential nominee.
Illinois Sen. Obama won the backing of the influential Culinary Workers Union, while business interests tended to side with New York Sen. Clinton. Her forces were so concerned about their impact that they unsuccessfully went to court to try to stop special caucuses on Las Vegas' strip where casino and hotel employees could vote.
Also in play was the state's large Hispanic population. Latino voters represented an estimated 14 percent of Saturday's vote. Clinton got an estimated 64 percent of their vote.
The stakes were also particularly high in this caucus because it was the only major Democratic contest between the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary, where Clinton defied almost every poll and won, and Jan. 26, when South Carolina holds the party's first Southern contest.
For Clinton, who lost the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus to Obama, the win lets her say that once she understood her rival's challenge, she adjusted and learned how to prevail.
As she had in New Hampshire, Clinton ran strong among women; exit polls showed she won the backing of 52 percent of women, while Obama took about 43 percent. An estimated 58 percent of the voters were women.
Among Republicans, Romney was the clear winner in Nevada, taking 55 percent of the vote with 38 percent of precincts reporting. Arizona Sen. John McCain was second at 12 percent, followed closely by Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the only other Republican to make a major effort here.
Romney, a practicing Mormon, concentrated on a state with the fourth-highest Mormon population in the nation -- an estimated 7.4 percent -- and one where his son Josh, who lives in Utah, could visit frequently to campaign. Mormons accounted for an estimated 25 percent of Saturday's caucus vote, and voter surveys showed almost all went for Romney-overall, about half of his total vote came from Mormons.
Romney's victory fits his national strategy of accumulating delegates to the Republican National Convention rather than looking for momentum-building victories. Nevada has 34 delegates; South Carolina has 24.
However, Romney's triumph, his third after this month's Michigan primary and Wyoming caucus, also illustrates a potential weakness of his candidacy. Until recently, he signaled that he very much wanted to win South Carolina, and he blanketed the Palmetto State with TV ads and made frequent trips there.
But his Jan. 15 victory in Michigan, where his father was a prominent auto executive and a popular governor, seemed to provide Romney little momentum in the South. A McClatchy-MSNBC poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, taken Monday through Wednesday, found him a distant third behind McCain and Huckabee and barely ahead of Thompson.