Clinton uses Las Vegas to trump Obama's rural strength

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Hillary Clinton's decisive win in the Nevada Democratic caucuses has highlighted a persistent thread in state politics.

The road to victory runs through Las Vegas.

Clinton beat rival Barack Obama by a whopping 10 percentages points in Las Vegas' urban Clark County, home to 70 percent of the state's Democrats. She showed decisive strength with Hispanics, older voters and with women like Cheryl Miglioretto, an arts consultant.

"I want her to be the first woman president in the United States and I think she has the proven track record to do it," Miglioretto said.

Clinton even pulled a large number of voters away from their Obama-supporting unions.

But the rest of Nevada was a very different picture.

Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois who is bidding to become the first African-American elected president, carried 11 of Nevada's 17 counties. That included Washoe County, encompassing Reno and Sparks, where he had 49 percent to Clinton's 40 percent.

This support helped the Obama campaign put an asterisk next to Clinton's victory. Though she won the popular vote and 51 percent to his 45 percent of the county delegates chosen Saturday, Obama would receive 13 of Nevada's national 25 delegates and Clinton 12 if the state convention were held today.

The calculation was a quirk of the system, which awards delegates based on congressional districts. But it demonstrates how Obama was embraced by Democrats in small town Nevada.

Obama won a nearly 2-to-1 margin of victory in Elko County, a ranching and mining hub in the far northeastern corner of the state where 91 percent of the population is white according to 2006 statistics. He had 58 percent to the former first lady's 29 percent.

Demographically, the territory looks more like Iowa, a state Obama carried, than urban, diverse Las Vegas. And like Iowa, it's a place where white voters saw Obama as a bipartisan communicator.

"When people talk about Obama, race never really comes up. It just doesn't come up. He represents the kind of dialogue that people want - not only change, but reaching out to everybody," said Washoe County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Wicker, who endorsed Obama.

Alexis Hernandez, 20, a student at UNR, agreed.

"Obama appeals to more people and has a reputation for working with Republicans," he said.

In addition to Elko and Washoe counties, Obama carried Carson City, Douglas, Esmeralda, Eureka, Humboldt, Pershing, Storey and White Pine counties - all part of Nevada's 2nd Congressional District, which has never elected a Democrat to the U.S. House since it was created in 1980.

Statewide, Obama carried 14 percent more votes than Clinton from people who described themselves as independents before registering to vote Democrat on Saturday. These results could bode well for his campaign in places like Minnesota and Kansas, states with significant rural Democratic voters set to weigh in on Feb. 5.

Yet, the big prizes on Super Tuesday - California, New York, New Jersey - look more like Las Vegas than Elko.

In urban Las Vegas, after a week in which the campaign was dominated by discussions of race in politics, Obama faltered. He won solid support in black neighborhoods in Las Vegas. But those leads were overwhelmed by Clinton's nearly two-thirds victories in Hispanic precincts, a larger segment of the electorate in the city.

Clinton's support among Hispanics also likely helped her in the 'at-large' caucus sites on the Las Vegas Strip where many participants were members of Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, whose membership is nearly 40 percent Hispanic. The union endorsed Obama, but Clinton won in seven of the nine sites.

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Associated Press Writers Martin Griffith in Sparks and Kathleen Hennessey and Ryan Nakashima in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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