By Skeeter Sanders
As Americans pause to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the national holiday honoring his birth, the often-ugly politics of race and gender have come out of the closet for both major parties in the contest to choose a successor to President Bush -- subtly for the Democrats and overtly for at least one Republican.
On the Democratic side, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who won Saturday's Nevada Democratic caucuses, claimed her second win of the presidential race, defeating her closet rival, fellow Senator Barack Obama of Illinois by a narrow 51 percent-to-45 percent margin. Former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina finished a shockingly poor third, with only four percent of the vote.
But entrance polls conducted by The Associated Press showed that Democrats were sharply divided along ethnic, racial, gender and generational lines -- divisions that could be exacerbated in this Saturday's Democratic primary in South Carolina, where half of the Democratic electorate is African American -- and leaning heavily toward Obama.
If these divisions persist by the time the Democrats gather for their August national nominating convention in Denver, it could spell serious trouble for the party in the fall campaign leading to the November 4 general election.
On the Republican side, controversy over racist articles published in a newsletter bearing the name of Representative Ron Paul of Texas continues to dog him, amid new revelations that his campaign is drawing more support from avowed white supremacists and other far-right extremists than was previously thought.
Paul finished a surprising second in the Nevada GOP caucuses, edging out Senator John McCain of Arizona, 14 percent to 13 percent. Former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts coasted to an easy first-place victory in Nevada with 51 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, McCain captured the South Carolina GOP primary, narrowly defeating former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, 33 percent to 30 percent. Former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee finished a disappointing third, with 16 percent of the vote -- and was rumored on Sunday to be preparing to drop out of the race.
Romney -- who had written off South Carolina, with its high concentration of Christian evangelicals, to concentrate on Nevada, with its large Mormon population -- finished fourth, with 15 percent. Paul finished way back in fifth place, with only four percent of the vote, while former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- who's concentrating his campaign on Florida's January 29 primary -- finished dead last, at two percent.
(Representative Duncan Hunter of California withdrew from the race just hours before the Nevada caucuses began, but his name remained on the South Carolina ballot and his votes were not counted).
Women Powered Clinton's Win While Blacks Snubbed Ex-First Lady
Women made up nearly 60 percent of those taking part in Saturday's Nevada Democratic contest, according to the AP's entrance poll, and the former first lady led Obama by a margin of 52 percent to 35 percent among those voters.
Clinton, who won last week's New Hampshire primary, swept the Latino vote in the Nevada caucuses by a nearly three-to-one margin. Latinos make up about a quarter of the state's population and 14 percent of caucus participants, the poll found.
Obama led overwhelmingly among the 16 percent of his fellow African Americans who came out to caucus. Nearly 80 percent of black caucus-goers supported Obama, who won the January 3 Iowa caucuses -- and black voters are expected to make up about half of the electorate in South Carolina, the scene of the party's next primary on Saturday.
Even more revealing of a racial split, nearly 70 percent of black voters in Michigan -- who made up more than a third of the votes cast in that state's Democratic primary last Tuesday, which Clinton won -- refused to back the former first lady, choosing the “uncommitted” option instead. According to CNN exit polls, those voters overwhelmingly favored Obama, whose name did not appear on the ballot.