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No clear party front-runners emerge

  • Story Highlights
  • Victories for McCain, Romney, Clinton don't set them apart from the field
  • Obama, Clinton vie for African-American votes in South Carolina
  • Giuliani waits for other Republicans to meet him in Florida
  • Huckabee weakens; Edwards, Thompson try to stay viable; Hunter out
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CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) -- Saturday's results in Nevada and South Carolina did little to establish a clear front-runner in either party's race for presidential nominee.

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Sen. John McCain celebrates with supporters in Charleston, South Carolina.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton won Nevada but captured fewer delegates in what is shaping up as two-person race.

She has what little momentum there is on the Democratic side, having won in New Hampshire and Nevada after Illinois Sen. Barack Obama won in Iowa.

The scorecard sets up a Democratic showdown in South Carolina, where both candidates are trying to capture the black vote. Almost half of voters in the 2004 Democratic primary there were African-American.

"It's a dead-even race, and it goes on to South Carolina," David Axelrod, Obama's political strategist, said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." Photo See images of Saturday's activities »

"They can try to spin a 6-point loss into whatever they want," Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said on the same program. "But the fact is, Sen. Clinton won a resounding victory. ... We focused relentlessly on the issues that the people care about, most certainly the economy."

South Carolina also is shaping up to be the last stand for former Sen. John Edwards. He won the state's primary in 2004 but is coming off a disappointing finish Saturday in Nevada, where he got only 4 percent of the vote.

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The Democrats face their toughest questions yet when they debate before the Congressional Black Caucus
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"I got my butt kicked. That is what happened in Nevada," Edwards said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer. "And the job for me now is -- I have learned this from my whole life experience -- is when you get knocked down, you have got to get up. ...

"You know, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?" he added. "I hope that turns out to be true in this case." Video Watch the impact of the Nevada results »

Florida will be the final Democratic contest before Super Tuesday, February 5, when voters will pick their favorites in 24 diverse states.

Among Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain appears to have a slight edge coming off his win in South Carolina. But only three in 10 voters there who said they voted for McCain characterized themselves as Republicans, raising questions about whether he can capture the party's conservative base. Video Watch what South Carolina means for the GOP race »

"Essentially, McCain did it on a personal vote," said CNN analyst Bill Schneider. "It wasn't ideology; it wasn't issues. It was a vote for him personally, which has always been his strongest appeal."

McCain ran strong in the coastal Low Country around Charleston and ran even with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the state's inland Piedmont region, according to exit polls.

While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won big in Nevada, the race there was largely uncontested. Romney finished fourth in South Carolina after passing up campaigning there to concentrate on Nevada.

"If you can win those two states -- Michigan and Nevada -- it means you have put together quite a coalition and have been able to make the kind of inroads you have to make to take the White House," Romney said Saturday afternoon from Florida.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas edged out McCain to take second place in Nevada, ahead of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and Huckabee.

Thompson finished third in South Carolina, where he had hoped a strong showing would reinvigorate his flagging campaign.

"He's really been good lately, but it's too late," CNN analyst Bill Bennett said of Thompson. "If you're a Southern conservative and you can't make it in South Carolina, it's over." See our political team analyze the results »

And Huckabee was unable to parlay his appeal to evangelicals in South Carolina into a victory. After winning in Iowa, Huckabee has had disappointing results in New Hampshire, Michigan and now South Carolina and Nevada.

California Rep. Duncan Hunter, who received just 2 percent of the GOP vote in Nevada, abandoned his presidential bid after the results came in.

The Republican contest now heads to Florida, where former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has campaigned extensively. He's hoping the 57 delegates up for grabs in the January 29 vote will propel him into the thick of the race.

The Democratic contest in Florida won't count because of national party sanctions against the state party for moving up the primary date.

It remains to be seen whether Giuliani's Florida strategy will work with all three of his top rivals coming into the state having claimed victories in earlier contests.

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"We're ready for everybody to come down here, join us, start talking about who can lower taxes the most, who has the best record of a tax cutter, who's had the best record of stimulating an economy," Giuliani said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

Giuliani set the tone for the contest as results were being counted in South Carolina -- criticizing McCain and Romney on their tax records while touting his plan for what he said would be the United States' largest-ever tax cut. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's John Helton, Josh Levs, Bill Schneider and Kate Taylor contributed to this report.

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