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Clinton wins a polarized Nevada vote

State presages rise of identity politics: Hispanics sided with her, blacks went for Obama.

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To be sure, gender, race, and ethnicity weren't the only factors. Age remained relevant, with Obama capturing the young and Clinton the elderly. The much discussed distinction "experience versus change" split voters, too.

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If the trend toward identity politics continues, the Democratic candidates may find themselves battling for African-Americans and Hispanics until a clear winner emerges. Hispanics are numerically stronger out West, African-Americans are more numerous across the South and represent more voters in northern cities.

"Hillary has an advantage in California, and Obama will have a better chance in the Northeast and the Southeast," says Tom Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

That doesn't mean, however, that Obama would want to cede California and focus on New York. Democrats typically assign delegates in proportion to the vote breakdown, meaning winning states is secondary now to maximizing delegates, says Dr. Cain. (Republicans, he notes, generally play by a winner-take-all system, meaning that GOP candidates are more likely to target states they'll compete in.)

It's difficult to know which demographic could deliver more delegates. On the one hand, African-Americans in 2004 cast 5 million more votes than Latinos, despite the fact that the Latino population was already the largest US minority. And black voters are more uniformly Democratic.

"These two things would seem to bode well for Obama. The flip side is that Latino voters are more uniformly for Clinton, whereas black women are cross-pressured," says Dr. Schaller.

Yet the Michigan and Nevada results suggest that the racial tensions on the trail have driven African-Americans now solidly into the Obama camp, breaking Clinton's tug on black women.

One of the big wild cards is Mr. Edwards, who garnered 4 percent of the vote here. A significant chunk of voters may be up for grabs if Edwards were to drop out.

Nevada's results contradict the presumption that Edwards's voters would go to Obama, says David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. "It's not a given that it's an anti-Hillary crowd."

In a final quirk of the record-turnout Democratic caucus here, Clinton won the popular vote, but Obama garnered more voter delegates, 13 to 12, since they are awarded by congressional district. Clinton, of course, got the headline. But momentum doesn't matter so much in her case, argues Dr. Jelen, since she already has plenty of money and exposure.

"Looking ahead, Obama has to win in South Carolina, period," says Jelen. "The electorate [there] is very African-American and not very Hispanic. If he can't win there, it's unlikely he can win anywhere else."