US race moves to Nevada, South Carolina

Voters in the American west and south will get their first chance on Saturday to have a say in the tightest and most chaotic race for the White House in decades.

According to the latest polls, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in a virtual dead heat in Nevada, which holds its caucuses on Saturday for Democrats and Republicans. Pollster, which tracks all the polls, shows Obama eating into Clinton’s lead. A Reuters/Zogby poll in Nevada, carried out between Tuesday and Thursday and published on Friday, puts Clinton on 42%, Obama on 37% and Edwards 12%.

South Carolina, where the Republicans have been engaged in an acrimonious contest that has invoked God and the Confederate flag, holds its primary on Saturday for Republican voters.
The Democratic primary in the state is next Saturday.

Polls show John McCain and Mike Huckabee rising, leaving Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson trailing. A Reuters/Zogby poll in South Carolina puts McCain on 29%, Huckabee on 22%, Romney on 15% and Thompson on 13%.

South Carolina has long been the testing ground for any Republican hopeful. The winner of the past six primaries in the state has gone on to become the Republican nominee.

But Romney, whose Mormonism has gone down badly among Christian evangelicals in the state, virtually conceded defeat on Thursday by pulling out of South Carolina and heading for Nevada. Although the western state does not carry the same resonance for Republicans as South Carolina, Romney has a substantial poll lead there.

Thompson could be forced to pull out if he loses in South Carolina, though he insisted on Friday he would not.

The Confederate flag was revived as a campaign issue by Huckabee, who said: “You don’t like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag.”

The flag flew over the state capitol building until 2000 when, after a heated debate, it was removed to another part of the grounds, though with a stipulation to placate die-hard supporters that it should not be flown lower than 9m. Huckabee’s comments were aimed at McCain, who called in 2000 for the removal of the flag from the state capitol.

Huckabee, a Baptist preacher appealing to Christian evangelicals and rightwingers, on Friday defended his call for the Constitution to be amended to bring it more into line with the word of God.

McCain, who lost the Michigan primary last week partly because of blunt comments about jobs and the economy, has tried to rectify his mistake, sounding more optimistic about job creation.

The Democratic candidates will switch to the south on Sunday to begin the battle for the critical African-American vote. Obama will achieve an early advantage, having been invited to speak at the Ebenezer Baptist church, in Atlanta, Georgia, on the eve of Martin Luther King Day. It is the church where King preached and where his funeral was held.—Â

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