( dpa ) - With no clear leader yet to emerge in the bid for their party's nominations, US presidential contenders face key tests in South Carolina and Nevada later Saturday as they scramble for their party's presidential nomination.
Most of the focus will be on the centre-right Republicans in South Carolina, the first southern state in the state-by-state battle for delegates to the party's national convention in September in St Paul, Minnesota.
Senator John McCain, 71, goes in as the South Carolina Republican favourite with about 28 per cent support in pre-election polling, followed by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, 52, with about 20 per cent support and a strong appeal for southern and Christian voters. The wealthy former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, 60, holds 13 to 17 per cent support in various polls.
Each of the three have won a primary prize - Huckabee took Iowa, McCain New Hampshire and Romney his native state of Michigan.
Democratic voters in South Carolina will chose their preferred presidential candidate next Saturday, January 26, where the scramble for the large black vote has been intense between Senators Hillary Clinton, 60, and Barack Obama, 46.
Both Democrats and Republicans will caucus on Saturday in Nevada, where the response of Hispanic voters will be closely watched. Polls there show a tight race among Clinton, Obama and former senator John Edwards, 54. Their percentages of support lie in the narrow range of 27 to 32 per cent.
Given the closeness of the races, the presidential hopefuls need the single-state contests like South Carolina and Nevada to build momentum going into the huge multi-state vote on February 5. Twenty- three states will be holding presidential nominating contests on that day.
In between is the Florida vote on January 29, where former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has lagged fifth and sixth in the contests so far, is placing all his hopes and money.
The state contests elect delegates to the national conventions later this year. Democrats are to gather in August in Denver, Colorado.
The presidential elections are November 4, 2008.