Sweet column: In Nevada caucus women, Hispanics bolster Clinton; African-Americans help Obama; union members split.

SHARE Sweet column: In Nevada caucus women, Hispanics bolster Clinton; African-Americans help Obama; union members split.

LAS VEGAS — Boisterous supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama — wearing uniforms marking them as chefs, maids or pit dealers, or the civilian clothes of busty waitresses off duty, or T-shirts with union names — streamed into a cavernous ballroom at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort and Casino on Saturday for the Democratic caucus.

They each took sides — like at a wedding: Who invited you, the bride or groom? — and proceeded to raucously shout each other down before the caucus was called to order. In the end, the results mirrored the state: just about split between Obama and Clinton.

Helped by votes from the Las Vegas area, Clinton won the popular vote with a healthy lead, 51 percent to 45 percent for Obama and 4 percent for John Edwards.

But the way a Democratic nominee is minted is by accumulating 2,025 delegates, and in Nevada, Obama, with support throughout the state, claimed 13 delegates to 12 for Clinton, according to unofficial tallies by the Associated Press.

Saturday represented the first of several steps in allocating delegates, with the final count to come at a state convention April 19.

The Nevada state party said that “if delegate preferences remain unchanged,” the AP tallies were right.

Bolstered by the popular vote, Clinton said in Las Vegas: “I guess this is how the West was won,” before heading off to St. Louis.

Obama flew to Chicago, then to Atlanta, to speak at Ebenezer Baptist Church this morning.

On the Republican side, the results were more decisive, with Mitt Romney gaining 51 percent of the vote, to his closest competitors, Ron Paul and John McCain, who got 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively, and Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson, each with 8 percent.

In an only-in-Vegas political scene, the candidates themselves worked the famous hotels on the Strip to turn out voters.

Obama toured the “back of the house” at the Mirage Hotel and Casino on Saturday morning to fire up members of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which put their considerable political muscle behind Obama once it was clear Edwards’ prospects were fading. A Clinton-friendly teachers union failed in a bid for a court order to shut down the casino precincts once the Culinary Workers went for Obama.

Clinton spent 20 minutes Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, urging workers to go to the Luxor to caucus. Former President Bill Clinton hit staff lunch rooms in the morning at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino and the Rio All-Suite Las Vegas Casino Hotel.

As the Democrats race to South Carolina for the Jan. 26 primary, Obama has a solid win in Iowa, Clinton in New Hampshire, and two story lines emerging out of Nevada: Clinton stressing the popular vote and Obama the delegates he won.

The hard-hitting Democratic race created a record turnout in Nevada, about 114,000 voters, up from 9,000 in 2004. Nevada is the first western state to participate in an early state presidential vote and the first chance labor and Hispanics had a chance to flex their political muscle in influencing who becomes the Democratic nominee.

Voter surveys — not counting the precincts at Wynn and eight other hotels on the Strip — showed a black/brown divide.

Clinton overwhelmingly won the Hispanic vote, more than 2-1, and was helped by an outpouring of females, who made up 59 percent of caucusgoers. While men split between Obama and Clinton, women went 51-38 for Clinton. About two-thirds of caucusgoers were white, and they stood for Clinton, 52 percent to 34 percent. The caucuses had about 15 percent black voters; about 83 percent of them backed Obama.

About 30 percent of the caucus voters were union members; they split between Obama and Clinton.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said he was pleased they were able to “chip away” at the lead Clinton had held in polls in the months leading up to the Saturday vote. He said the Obama campaign was concerned about “irregularities” at caucus sites, including doors being closed early and not enough election materials. He said the campaign will investigate and then decide how to proceed.

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