As expected, Mitt Romney cruised to an easy win in the Nevada Caucuses on Saturday, more than doubling the vote of his closest rival Newt Gingrich, and leaving Ron Paul and Rick Santorum far behind.
Snafus in tallying the votes from Las Vegas and Clark County, the state’s most populous, delayed the final numbers, perhaps into Monday. As of Sunday night, AP is reporting that with 89% of the votes counted, Romney leads with 49%, Gingrich is second with 21%, Ron Paul will finish 3rd with 18%, and Rick Santorum last with 10%.
Gingrich, who declined to give a concession speech and held a press conference instead, continued his brutal assault on the frontrunner, while assuring the media he was in the race until the convention. “I will be a candidate for President of the United States, we will go to Tampa,” he told the assembled media in a half hour press conference. That may be his plan, but the immediate future does not appear favorable for the former speaker. The February 7 caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota are not likely to turn his fortunes around, while the Michigan and Arizona primaries at the end of this month are currently Romney strongholds as well.
It was the Mormon vote that propelled Romney to victory. According to entrance polls, one in four voters were LDS members and Romney won 91% of them. Fully 4 in 10 Romney votes came from Mormons — a fact that some observers believe made the results less significant than some of the entrance poll numbers would indicate.
The former Massachusetts governor gave Gingrich a significant drubbing across the board, winning self-identified conservatives, tea party supporters, evangelical Christians, and all income groups except those making less than $30,000 a year.
Romney also won big with voters who see defeating Barack Obama as the number one issues of the campaign. More than 4 in 10 caucus voters listed electability as their major concern and Romney beat Gingrich by 74-18. But he only won 5% of voters who saw choosing a nominee with the best conservative credentials as the number one issue as Ron Paul carried that group by 45-31 over Gingrich. However, the “True Blue” conservatives comprised only 17% of the electorate in Nevada. Much more numerous were the 48% of caucus goers who identified themselves as “very conservative.” Here, the Mormon vote came into play as Romney beat Gingrich among this group by 2-1. This is by far his best showing among this important demographic and can be attributed to strong support by LDS members who largely self-identify as “very conservative.”
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Mormon vote to Romney’s victory in Nevada. Nowhere else save Utah will Mormons comprise such a large slice of the electorate and Romney’s dominance among LDS members slightly skewed some of his entrance poll numbers. But 27% of caucus goers identified themselves as evangelical Christians and Romney carried them by 45-29 over Gingrich. Skewed or not, there were some impressive results for Romney coming out of Nevada — results he can build on in the coming weeks as he tries to convince a skeptical party that he can not only defeat Barack Obama in the fall, but that he is conservative enough to represent the GOP at the top of the ticket.
Ron Paul scored with independents, secularists, and was even with Romney among voters under 30. Gingrich topped Romney in one significant category: those who self identify as “strong conservatives.” Otherwise, it was a dismal night for the former speaker whose Nevada campaign was hobbled by a late start and poor organization.
Therein lies a tale of the mountain Gingrich has to climb in order to get back in the race. Politico reports that 2 days before the caucuses began, the Gingrich phone bank operation consisted of 3 volunteers in a hotel suite making calls. His personal appearances were few, and many announced campaign stops were canceled due to lack of advance work. He had little paid media in Nevada prior to the caucuses and he made the blunder of scheduling a joint appearance with Nevada’s popular GOP Governor Brian Sandoval and then cancelling at the last minute.
This “seat of the pants” operation will likely be duplicated in Colorado and Minnesota, which will both hold their caucuses on Tuesday. Romney is far ahead in Colorado according to this PPP poll, leading Rick Santorum 40-26 with Gingrich in 3rd with 18% and Ron Paul with 12%. Pre-caucus polling is notoriously inaccurate but Romney has a strong organization in Colorado and appears a likely winner.