LAS VEGAS -- Just as Hillary Clinton was taking the stage at a crowded Nevada caucus victory party at Planet Hollywood, Barack Obama's campaign was declaring its own victory, in the state's delegate count.
The eccentricities of Nevada's caucus rules may, in the end, have come back to bite Clinton -- but not in the way her husband and certain supporters expected. While Clinton apparently won the at-large caucuses that some thought would favor Obama because he was endorsed by the Culinary Workers Union, Obama won in rural Nevada counties. And because the state Democratic Party awards rural counties more delegates per registered voter, to balance the political power of the cities, the Obama campaign claims his edge there gave him a narrow win in delegates, 13 to Clinton's 12 -- even though Clinton won the popular vote 51-45 over Obama.
Asked about the unconfirmed reports at a press conference, Clinton said: "Nobody really knows -- we're looking really good." But she left open the possibility that the Obama campaign is right, praising her popular-vote win and saying, "This isn't just about delegates."
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Obama's strong showing in rural counties is more evidence that Obama is a better national candidate than Clinton: "Once again, he's winning in pretty tough places for Democrats," Plouffe told reporters on a conference call.
I have calls in to state Democratic Party officials and Clinton campaign staff. We'll bring you more as we have it.
UPDATE: I still haven't reached Nevada party officials, but veteran Vegas journalist Jon Ralston is reporting that party director Jill Derby denies Obama won the delegate count. "I don't know why they're saying that," Ralston quotes Derby. "We don't select our national delegates the way they're saying. We won't select national delegates for a few more months."
UPDATE II: Clinton spokesperson Phil Singer emailed the following statement: "The Obama campaign is wrong. Delegates for the national convention will not be determined until April 19." Jill Derby's official statement that seems to back the Clinton camp's analysis: "No national convention delegates were awarded. The calculations of national convention delegates being circulated are based upon an assumption that delegate preferences will remain the same between now and April 2008. We look forward to our county and state conventions where we will choose the delegates for the nominee that Nevadans support."