Tight battle
 
Following his win in New Hampshire, the result in South Carolina will aid McCain's presidential campaign in a splintered Republican field heading into the Florida primary on January 29 and then "Super Tuesday" on February 5, where 20 states will hold their primaries.

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In Nevada, Clinton won 51 per cent of the votes compared to Obama's 45 per cent. John Edwards trailed in third with four per cent.

"I just want to say how grateful I am to Nevada and all of the people who worked so hard in this campaign," Clinton said in Las Vegas.

"I guess this is how the West was won."

Clinton will hope the victory gives her momentum in the tight nomination battle with Obama to select the Democratic candidate for the presidential election in November.

'Uplifting campaign'

The two had split the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Clinton and Obama, an Illinois senator, both complained of voting irregularities in the hours before and after the vote in Nevada.

Clinton led polls in the state for months heading into the contest, but Obama had been lifted by the endorsement of a powerful labour union that represents about 60,000 workers in the state's tourist hotels.

"We ran an honest, uplifting campaign in Nevada that focused on the real problems Americans are facing, a campaign that appealed to people's hopes instead of their fears," Obama said in a statement.

"That's the campaign we'll take to South Carolina and across America in the weeks to come."

Low turnout

Romney's convincing win in Nevada followed his breakthrough victory in Michigan last week.

He won 51 per cent, with Ron Paul a distant second on 13 per cent, the same figure as John McCain in third.
 
Romney said Republicans had cast their votes for change, and that he was the man to provide it.
 
"With a career spent turning around businesses, creating jobs and imposing fiscal discipline, I am ready to get my hands on Washington and turn it inside out," Romney said in a statement.

The former governor of Massachusetts issued while he flew to Florida to campaign for that state's primary on January 29.

However Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett in South Carolina said many political analysts would not place too much emphasis on Romney's victory given that many of the other candidates did not campaign heavily in Nevada preferring to focus on South Carolina.

McCain victory

In a speech, McCain thanked his supporters for handing him the victory, eight year after the primary in 2000, where he lost to George W. Bush, the current president, in a campaign filled with smears and allegations.

He said: "Thank you, my friends, and thank you, South Carolina, for  bringing us across the finish line first, in the first-in-the-south  primary. It took us a while, but what's eight years among friends."

"In the course of this campaign, I have tried as best I could, to tell people the truth about the challenges facing our country,  and how I intend to address them."
  
"I have tried to do that throughout this campaign, and to put my trust in your willingness to give me your fair consideration. So far, it seems to be working out just fine."

McCain refuses to consider himself a front-runner for the Republican nomination,
despite the South Carolina victory [Reuters]