As the U.S. presidential candidates for both major parties head into a crucial two-week period of the campaign, experts say it is not clear who will emerge as the nominees next fall. The upcoming contest in Florida will be key for the Republicans -- and the South Carolina Democratic party primary is seen as a must-win for Democrat Barack Obama.  The major party candidates in the November general election are chosen state-by-state by voters in primary elections and caucuses [local political meetings].   VOA's Jim Fry reports.

Senator John McCain's victory Saturday in the U.S. southern state of South Carolina puts him in a strong position heading into the upcoming Republican contests.  This victory was in a state dominated by religious conservatives. He said, "I will not let you down, so help me God."

Former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee trailed -- in what was his third straight loss since winning Iowa early this month.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney pointed to the future as he won a lesser contest Saturday in the western U.S. state of Nevada. "And then comes super, duper Tuesday -- I guess they call it coming up on February 5th.  I'll be back out this way, California is huge.  There are a few Californians here -- Whew!" Romney said.

Florida Republicans will vote next week [Tuesday, January 29th].  Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, once considered the national frontrunner, has dropped in public opinion polls recently after he staked his campaign on the Florida vote.

"And are we going to win Florida?" Giuliani asked supporters,  "YA!" they cheered. "Thank you.  God bless you," he added.

Florida will award to the winner the largest group of Republican national convention delegates so far.

Saturday in South Carolina, independent voters joined party regulars at the polls, as was also the case in New Hampshire and Iowa.  But Florida and many of the other 22 states voting in two weeks will only allow party regulars to vote. 

Republican strategist Michael Dowd says, "I think Florida is really the first true signal going into February 5th of where this race may end up."

Leading Democratic Party candidates are aiming their appeal this week at African American voters.  Barack Obama marched in a South Carolina event Monday commemorating the slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Junior. About half of the Democratic voters in the state's Saturday primary are black.

A South Carolina minister, Charles Jackson, says blacks could be lining up behind the black U.S. senator. "A lot of it has to do with the viability of Obama.  The win in Iowa sort of made it seem a bit more legitimate and a bit more real for many voters."

Senator Hillary Clinton spoke at Monday's South Carolina rally, recalling her childhood church trip to see King speak. She won Saturday's Nevada Democratic Party caucuses [local political meetings]. 

Government studies professor Michael Fauntroy is watching racial voting patterns. "People are looking past race.  And they're really looking at the person that can best-- can keep this country going and improve things," Fauntroy said.

On Saturday, Clinton told reporters, "This is one step on a long journey thoughout the country as we put our cases forward." 

Political analysts say it could be weeks before a candidate from either party can win enough delegates from each state to  be assured of the nomination.