8:11 pm: My colleague Ed O'Keefe offers this fall preview for Fred: "Coming Soon: The Drop Out!!" As for me -- I'm just reminded of this clip.
8 pm: This Thompson speech sounds about as much like a farewell as you can deliver without saying, "I'm dropping out."
7:54 pm: Fred Thompson set to speak -- we're not expecting him to drop out -- not tonight, at least. He tells us he's going to bed early tonight. You can't make this stuff up. As he thanks the people he's traveled with, it sounds like a valediction -- see you around, Fred. Then he says, it's not abot me, and it's not about you. Holy mackerel. What is he talking about?
7:49 pm: A thought on Romney -- he could come in third here despite running more SC ads than all his opponents combined. That's disastrous by any conventional measure. But the longer this lingers tonight, the more TV time he grabs by winning non-competitive Nevada. He wins when he loses. That's the measure of a professional campaign -- they saw down the board on this, realizing they had no real shot in South Carolina, and took the easy layup in Nevada.
7:27 pm: Interesting wrinkle out of Nevada. Obama clearly lost the popular vote -- BUT he may have won the equivalent of the Electoral college: the delegate count. The Obama campaign is claiming that they're taking 13 of Nevada's DNC delegates, to Clinton's 12 (basically, because he did better in districts with odd numbers of delegates, while they split those with even numbers). Anyway, it's allowing the Obama campaign to claim a "win" on a night that they rather clearly lost. (ABC's delegate guru says it appears the campaign is right.) Does this make Barack Obama the new George W. Bush?
7:26 pm: It's very early, but here are the returns as they come in in South Carolina:
7:23 pm: Regional manager -- this is the first caucus that's actually mattered, so I don't know the answer to your question. I do know that all the Nevada smarty pants though that the culinary endorsement would be the most important one to nag -- but maybe none of them matter.
7:19 pm: ABC Polling Director Gary Langer tells us that Mike Huckabee is in the hunt because conservatives and evangelicals turned out in bigger than expected numbers. Remember that this was McCain's problem in Michigan as well -- the turnout among independents didn't keep pace with where it was in 2000.
Langer: "In preliminary exit poll results, conservatives account for nearly seven in 10 Republican primary voters, and evangelicals account for more than half. Huckabee has strong if not monolithic support from evangelicals. But he's very weak among non-evangelicals - barely one in 10 of them support him."
7:09 pm: They're playing Mitt Romney's Florida speech in the press filing center at McCain's victory party -- all those "oh boy" moments where Romney purports to be overwhelmed with his victory. And now he's telling a weird story about the party where he gave a ride home to Ann Romney. He just said he and Ann have been "going steady ever since." The reporters here are laughing. This is no focus group, but does this stuff really sell?
7 pm: So the polls are closed -- and we don't have a winner to project. ABC is projecting a two-way race for first, between McCain and Huckabee, and a two-way race for third, between Thompson and Romney. This conforms with our expectations. But pause to reflect on what this means for Fred Thompson. This was his big last stand, and if he comes in third or fourth -- here's guessing he follows Duncan Hunter out the door for the exits.
6:45 pm: Edwards may not drop out at all, Kevin. He could very well stay in through the convention -- and will, if he makes good on his word. He's not in a position where he has to curry favor with either of his rivals.
6:37 pm: I'm camped out at what's being called the McCain "victory party." Polls close in less than half an hour, and the crowd is just starting to build. It's the kind of slow start that suggest a late night, but who knows at this point.
6:25 pm: Our Edwards reporter, Raelyn Johnson, reports that Edwards tried to congratulate Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama but didn't connect. Another sign of a campaign that's not headed in the right direction, when you can't get your phone calls answered.
5:50 pm: Another note on the culinary endorsement: Exit polls show an even split among union households, 45-44 for Clinton over Obama. She racked up her margin of victory with a 9-point edge among non-union households. Another lesson in the value and limitations of endorsements.
5:36 pm: The latest results:
5:32 pm: And a big Democratic turnout figure: 114,000. That's more than the 100K that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicted -- and he was pretty much laughed at when he said it. Where's the energy this year?
5:31 pm: Some exit poll info out of Nevada -- what it shows mostly are deep divisions inside the Democratic Party along race and gender lines, courtesy of ABC polling director Gary Langer: "African-American caucus-goers overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, 83-14 percent. But Hispanics favored Clinton by more than a 2-1 margin, and she won whites by a somewhat narrower 18 points, producing her overall victory. Clinton ran about evenly with Obama among men, but prevailed among women; and while she lost the youngest caucus-goers to Obama, she won by an equally wide margin among those 60 and over, who made up a greater share of the electorate."
Naturally, these sorts of splits put the emphasis on turnout -- he or she who gets out his or her voters, wins.
5:26 pm: Memo just out from Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle. Not to brag, but if you read down, you'll see I called the tone: "Today we won a huge victory by overcoming institutional hurdles and one of the worst negative ads in recent memory," Solis Doyle writes. "Our campaign also received numerous reports of strong arm tactics designed to discourage our voters from caucusing and found itself on the receiving end of one of the most scurrilous smear efforts in recent memory."
5:20 pm: An interesting call by Obama: He will not be appearing on camera, at all, until he attends a church service tomorrow morning in Atlanta. He's due to spend the night at home in Chicago -- but here's guessing it won't be a restful evening for him.
4:50 pm: I do think it's clear that we're going all the way to Feb. 5. I don't think it's clear that John Edwards makes it that far, but Clinton and Obama can at least both get to Super Tuesday. But if one or the other sweeps that day -- then what? Yes, the delegate count will say that nobody has it clinched yet, but if these two weeks provide momentum (at long last) a clear victory in the big states could be enough.
4:35 pm: Kevin - a great point about who's turning out. And a healthy reminder that Obama remade the political equation precisely once -- in Iowa -- and is hoping to replicate that magic of big turnout among younger voters and independents.
4:30 pm: Just to switch back to the GOP for a moment -- Ron Paul is fighting with John McCain for second in Nevada -- not a huge surprise, since he was the only candidate not named Mitt Romney to focus on the state (hello, Moonlight Bunny Ranch). But if the Paulites needed another reason to get fired up -- and start sending more moolah -- a second-place finish could be it.
4:27 pm: And what can we say about John Edwards? It wasn't that long ago that Edwards was supposed to do well in Nevada, with all his labor support. If he can't break out of Kucinich territory (OK, he'll beat Kucinich, but still -- low single digits!) how can he hang on in this race? Will he stick around a week so the vote comes to his native South Carolina?
4:22 pm: How about those casino caucuses that had Clinton supporters so worried? We have numbers in from eight of the nine caucuses held in casinos for shift workers -- and lo and behold, Clinton won seven of the eight. Wonder if President Clinton would have been as strident in denouncing them if he had known there would be an outcome like this...
4:19 pm: Obviously, a huge win for Sen. Clinton. She clearly gains the edge in a tight contest, but South Carolina is only a week away, and then we're going straight through to Feb. 5. And yet Clinton can now claim a clear win in the first state to weigh in with a large number of minority voters. She can also claim to have put in a place a political machine that was able to overcome what was expected to be the state's most potent: the culinary workers, whose endorsement of Obama turned out not to mean that much in the end.
It should be noted that a Clinton win was projected by the recent polls; the Obama campaign is hoping they'll be judged against that point spread, to use a Vegas term.
Yet we now have three contests down, two Hillary Clinton victories -- clearly the pressure is on Obama to show that his win in Iowa can be replicated.
Let me throw out a proposition -- not endorsing a point of view, just fostering discussion: "Barack Obama missed his best chance to knock out Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire -- and now he's done." DISCUSS.
4:11 pm: HUGE ALERT, from ABC's Decision Desk: "Based on our analysis of the 'vote' that’s in so far, ABC News projects Clinton will be the winner of the Nevada Democratic caucuses. We project Obama will be second, and Edwards will be third."
4:06 pm: On the D side, Clinton is holding her lead, 52-44-4 with about half of all precincts reporting...
4:03 pm: Preliminary exit poll data is from South Carolina, and I'm going to quote ABC polling director Gary Langer so I don't get anything wrong: "A broadly conservative and majority evangelical electorate is turning out in the Republican primary in South Carolina, with values – and the economy – on their minds."
"Preliminary exit poll results indicate that nearly seven in 10 Republican voters in the state are identifying themselves as conservatives, which is more than in the 2000 primary there, as well as more than in either Michigan or New Hampshire this year. And nearly six in 10 in South Carolina are evangelical Christians."
"Independents in these preliminary results account for just about two in 10 voters, down from nearly three in 10 in any of the last three South Carolina GOP primaries."
"In a sign of the conservative and evangelical turnout, about seven in 10 in these preliminary results say abortion should be generally illegal; more than said so either in Michigan (62 percent) or in markedly less-conservative New Hampshire (44 percent.)"
Thoughts on who's happy to read those sentences, and who's maybe not so much?
3:57 pm ET: Returns are rolling in from Nevada -- so far, the Clinton folks don't have much to worry about. But this is only about one-fourth of precincts reporting. It's Clinton up 53-43, with Edwards WAY back at 4. If that holds, can Edwards stay in even until South Carolina votes next Saturday?
3:45 pm: While Clinton's campaigner in chief, Bill Clinton, talks of voter suppression, and Obama himself counters that its interesting that the attacks are getting sharper as the campaign gets tighter . . . consider this - now no matter how this plays out, these charges by the Clinton camp have boxed in the Obama folks in an interesting way.
If Obama wins, the Clinton folks are primed to cry foul, claiming a rigged system. If Clinton wins, their storyline becomes, Wow, we overcame this political machine that was trying to boost Obama. This is a spin game being played at the highest levels.
3:15 pm: Per ABC's Sunlen Miller, Barack Obama has just responded to President Clinton's allegation of voter intimidation. "Yeah, he's been getting a little fired up, hasn't he? I guess we must be doing okay. He was always really nice to me when I was 20 points down," Obamasaid. He then said he respects the rights of the workers to vote: "I want to make sure that everybody who has the right to participate in this caucus is participating."
And this just in, via a memo from Obama campaign manager David Plouffe: "Beginning with the lawsuit filed by their allies to suppress turnout among union members, the Clinton Campaign has been engaged in a systematic effort to discredit the process – a process which was pushed, developed, and approved by their supporters at the Democratic National Committee and in Nevada. It wasn't until Obama began gaining strength in a state they expected to win by at least 20 points that they began their attempts to delegitimize the process."
So much of this is spin, but almost regardless of the outcome, this is going to get ugly . . .
3:10 pm: A source at the Edwards campaign says one of their supporters came up to his caucus site at a Las Vegas middle school and was told by someone outside the building that Edwards was not a viable candidate, and therefore he should go home.
The campaign says it doesn't have the name and number of this individual, and it's just one of about 1,000 rumors and innuendos flying questioning the integrity of the Nevada caucuses -- and remember that the state party has never run anything remotely like this before. So expect one of the storylines out of Nevada to be that we can't trust the results.
2:42 pm ET: ABC's Tahman Bradley has new details on the voting-maching problems in Horry County (Myrtle Beach and environs). "A spokesman for the SC election commission confirms that a number of voting machines in a number of precincts in Horry county had difficulty this morning from human error in preparing the voting machines for the election. It's not clear how many precincts are experiencing the problems, the spokesman said. The election commission believes the problem is isolated to Horry County, where there are 127,000 registered voters. Voters in precincts across the county were told to use paper ballots and they have submitted them successfully. From what the state officials can tell, every person who has tired to vote has been successful either using the machines or by using paper."
Depending on the results tonight, of course, we may not have heard the end of this. The McCain campaign in particular has been concerned about this, and aides claim some voters were told just to leave after they trouble voting -- accounts that very much conflict with what state officials are telling ABC.
2:15 pm ET: So the buzz of the day out of South Carolina surrounds voting-maching problems in the Myrtle Beach area. And on the Democratic side, out in Nevada, Bill Clinton is saying that he and his daughter actually witnessed voter intimidation.
This from a transcript obtained by Politico's Ben Smith:
"Today when my daughter and I were wandering through the hotel, and all these culinary workers were mobbing us telling us they didn’t care what the union told them to do, they were gonna caucus for Hillary.
"There was a representative of the organization following along behind us going up to everybody who said that, saying 'if you’re not gonna vote for our guy were gonna give you a schedule tomorrow so you can’t be there.' So, is this the new politics? I haven’t seen anything like that in America in 35 years. So I will say it again – they think they're better than you."
This is a serious charge from the former president. And we hope and expect that the campaign will make Chelsea Clinton available to reporters to say exactly what she saw. OK, I'm being sarcastic -- remember that Chelsea doesn't speak to the press. But if Chelsea Clinton was a precinct chairwoman in Henderson, instead of a 27-year-old hedge-fund employee who just happens to be a former first daughter, don't you think the campaign would have already had her on a conference call, recounting what she saw?
1:58 pm ET: Hey there, Rick Klein from ABC's The Note here. Well -- I was caught off guard by how quickly Mitt Romney was called the winner in Nevada. I was driving between Columbia and Charleston at the time, unsafely checking my BlackBerry (kids, don't try that at home).
A few quick points: First, this is not unexpected. Romney was the only top-tier candidate to focus on Nevada, and he fled South Carolina two days early to make sure he had a victory to show for his Saturday. And, as rival campaigns are quickly pointing out, no actual real-life convention delegates are being elected today; this was just step one leading up the state convention, in April. (Curiously, the Romney folks made that argument two weeks ago in discounting the stakes in their loss in Iowa, but here's betting we don't here that from them in their celebration today).
But neither is this meaningless. In an apples-to-apples comparison, it's fair to count Iowa and Nevada caucuses toward delegates, since that's what the results will eventually mean. This is the second time Romney has swept up a win in a lightly contested race -- and, counting Wyoming, he's won three of the five states that have made their preferences known (though his average will fall to .500 when he loses South Carolina today). AND YET -- winning Nevada pales in comparison to winning South Carolina, so the big contest is still to come today.
This from ABC polling director Gary Langer, based on preliminary exit poll results: "Notable in Nevada was that Mormons make up just 7 percent of the state’s population, but, in preliminary exit poll results, accounted for a quarter of Republican caucus-goers. More than 90 percent of them supported Romney. Romney, however, also prevailed in non-Mormon groups, and even led Mike Huckabee among evangelicals in preliminary exit poll results."
Also of note in Nevada -- the only other Republican to make a real effort in the state was Ron Paul, and it looks like he's being rewarded for his efforts. Paul "attracted significant support from independents and voters looking for a straight-talking candidate – good groups for John McCain elsewhere, where he campaigned," Langer writes.
To my point about what the victory means, this from ABC's John Berman: "I asked a Romney aide, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much they would rather have Huckabee win SC than McCain . . . the answer? 11. Also . . . they tried hard in SC. Placed 40 thousand GOTV calls yesterday."