( AFP )- US presidential aspirants faced tough votes on Saturday, with Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama bumping heads in Nevada's caucuses and Republican contenders waiting to see if South Carolina's primary will produce a clear front-runner.
Voting in South Carolina opened early Saturday amid a frigid winter storm and predicted snowfall in the normally balmy state. Voters here could determine a clear Republican favorite ahead of the February 5 Super Tuesday voting, when more than 20 states weigh in on the race.
Senator John McCain and former state governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee come into the contest with one primary win each, and the winner here could grab the mantle and momentum of front-runner for the nod to contest the November 4 2008 presidential election.
In the western desert state and gambling center of Nevada, Democratic activists were due to take part in caucuses which Clinton hopes will extend her momentum after her victory in the New Hampshire primary last week.
The caucuses were to open at 11:00 am (1900 GMT), and results expected in the mid-afternoon.
A Las Vegas Review Journal poll Friday showed Clinton nine points up on Obama in Nevada, 41 to 32 percent, with the Illinois senator's hope for an upset potentially marred by his apparent praise for former Republican president Ronald Reagan's catalytic leadership, which could anger grass roots Democrats.
"I think it's fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas over a pretty long chunk of time there, over the last 10-15 years," Obama told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Reagan "changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not," he added.
Former first lady Clinton -- whose husband Bill was president during most of the 1990s -- took aim at Obama's remarks on Friday, saying "that's not the way I remember the last 10 or 15 years."
Obama meanwhile stuck to his message of change from the normal Washington politics, telling a rally in Reno that "the American people don't want a president whose plans change with the politics of the moment."
Both Democrats also Friday sought to gain ground by denouncing President George W. Bush's 140 billion dollar plan to ward off recession, as they campaigned in the vast, arid western state, among the areas worst hit by the US mortgage crisis.
"The Bush approach would fail to fully help the millions of lower income senior citizens who live on fixed incomes and are under enormous financial stress," Clinton said in a statement.
"It would disproportionately leave out African-American and Hispanic families who have, on average, lower incomes than white families," she said, mentioning two powerbases of the Democratic coalition.
Obama said in a statement that Bush has "finally offered a plan that would leave out tens of millions of working Americans and seniors who need help most and are most likely to spend and boost our economy."
In South Carolina, frigid weather kept campaign activists and lobby groups home, but Republican voters trickled into polling stations Saturday morning to weigh candidates who had vied during the week to claim the mantle of the most genuine conservative.
Polls averaged by Real Clear Politics had McCain and Huckabee both with just over a quarter of voter support each, and Romney, who is coming off a victory in the Michigan primary last Tuesday, back with 14.7 percent support.
Meanwhile television police drama star and former senator Fred Thompson was also surging with 14.6 percent support, and hoping his strong stance to the right of his opponents would earn him support from conservative South Carolina Republicans.
The polls were scheduled to close at 7 pm (0000 GMT Sunday), and results will start coming in shortly after that.