Published Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 | 1:31 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 | 8:27 p.m.
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Mitt Romney will win the Nevada GOP caucuses, the Las Vegas Sun projects.
Even with incomplete statewide results, official figures from just over 40 percent of precincts, as well as exit polling and caucus results observed by Sun reporters, give Romney an insurmountable lead in Nevada and another victory as his bid for the Republican nomination continues to gather momentum.
Official statewide results, excluding Clark and Washoe counties, show Romney with 42 percent of the vote; Newt Gingrich, 26 percent; Ron Paul, 18 percent; Rick Santorum, 13 percent.
Speaking at a victory party at Red Rock Resort tonight Romney, who won decisively in Florida on Tuesday, tried to make his nomination as the party's presidential candidate sound inevitable. In his remarks, he almost exclusively focused on President Barack Obama, pounding home his view of the differences between himself and the president.
“Four years ago, candidate Obama came to Nevada, promising to help. But after he was elected, his help was telling people to skip coming here for conventions and meetings,” he said. “I’ve walked in Nevada neighborhoods, blighted by abandoned homes…Mr. President, Nevada has had enough of your kind of help.”
Romney did, however, allow himself one dig at his Republican opponents, now lagging far behind him in both the delegate count and the race to reclaim momentum.
“I will make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, for innovators, and for job creators,” Romney said. “And unlike the other people running for President, I know how to do that.”
But that was it. For the rest of the ceremony, it was as if the rest of the Republican field – though all three of his competitors have pledged to remain in the race – didn’t even exist.
Newt Gingrich, however, appearing relaxed and defiant in defeat. He dismissed his poor showing, attributing it to what he described as the inevitability of a Romney victory in a “heavily Mormon state.”
“This is a state (Romney) won last time,” Gingrich said. “We will do better than John McCain did (in Nevada) last time and John McCain went on to reasonably good success.”
Instead of the typical campaign rally, where his supporters have had to greet more defeats than victories, Gingrich called a news conference to react to the Nevada results. Standing in a ballroom of the Venetian-- the casino owned by Sheldon Adelson who has so far kept Gingrich’s campaign afloat with a $10 million life raft — the former House speaker worked to put to rest rumors that he would drop out of the race after his defeat in the Silver State.
“I am a candidate for president of the United States,” he said. “I will be a candidate for president of the United States. We will go to Tampa.”
Gingrich said his team is building a strategy to match Romney’s delegate count by the beginning of April.
“Our commitment is to seek to find a series of victories, which by the end of the Texas primary will eave us about at parity with Gov. Romney and from that point forward see if we can’t win the nomination,” Gingrich said. The Texas primary is April 3.
Still, it would been hard to imagine a more favorable day for Romney: According to various projections, overall turnout for the Nevada GOP caucuses was low, Mormon turnout was high and his ground game was in full force, giving him the endorsement of over half the state’s voting Republicans -- as he did four years ago.
At various Republican presidential caucus sites throughout Clark County, turnout varied with some sites, like Green Valley High School packed, and others, like Boulder City High School, lightly attended.
Though Paul and Gingrich won a handful of precincts, most who showed were apparently Romney supporters.
“I love Newt’s intelligence. I love Santorum’s character. I love Ron Paul holding the line on taxes. But I honestly believe Mitt Romney’s the guy who can get elected,” said one woman in precinct 7555 in Boulder City. “And as a Republican that’s what I have to stand for.”
The vote didn’t go off without difficulty. Some voters complained that they didn’t know where to go and once they got there where their precinct was meeting. At Green Valley High School officials admitted that at least some precincts didn’t have official presidential ballots and so delegate ballots were used instead.
At the Sun City Anthem Clubhouse, 2460 Hampton Road in Henderson, between 1,600 and 2,000 mostly retirees showed up, according to Larry Zschokke, a caucus volunteer.
They crammed into meeting rooms to hear brief statements on the four candidates then cast their votes.
The Los Angeles Times reported that one of its reporters was ejected from that site called a “spy” by caucus-goers. Reporters for the Sun and a Las Vegas television station, however, spent the morning at the same site wandering in and out of the various precincts without incident.
Hearing was a problem with many, since up to three precincts were put into a single room, where background noises combined with age to draw frustrated pleas of “talk louder!”
But others seemed to know how to work the latent tension in the crowd.
“We made a mistake with Sharron Angle,” said one man loud enough to make the entire room burst into laughter. Angle lost to Harry Reid in the 2010 U.S. Senate race. The man urged other caucus-goers to support Romney.
Romney appears to have had a strong base of support heading into Saturday’s caucuses: According to a New York Times entrance poll, turnout by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was about 26 percent. In 2008, 95 percent of Mormon caucusers voted for Romney. The same poll showed that a similar number, 30 percent, identified as evangelical Christians -- more parity in population size that exists in most other Republican states.
But Romney didn’t have a lock on every caucus. In Reid’s hometown of Searchlight, for example, Gingrich won handily — with 8 of the 21 votes cast. Romney only got three.
Gingrich also had a strong showing in precincts meeting at Cenntenial High School in the northwest valley.
“He is tough and straightforward on the issues...the clear choice is Newt because he’s got a real plan,” said Ron Layman, a retired veteran. “Both Romney and Newt have been proven to stick their foot in their mouths, but I don’t think Newt will blow up. Romney just can’t think on his feet,” said Mike McGettigan, 40, a geotechnical engineer, anticipating some of the criticism that’s been flying about the candidate. He added that if Romney was nominated, “I would still vote for him.”
Romney ended up pulling out a win at the Centennial precincts, winning 390 of the 649 ballots cast.
Statewide, the caucuses ranged in size. In Carson City, 40 people stood outside in 14-degree weather for 20 minutes before doors opened. Gov. Brian Sandoval got there around 8:30 a.m., keeping quiet about who would get his vote. Sandoval endorsed early Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose debate gaffes quickly doomed his campaign.
In Boulder City, about 300 people showed for 10 precincts, most of whom went for Romney, but at least one picked Paul. Santorum supporter Rebecca Nestor, 42, said her perception is that Romney “has been pretty much picked and selected for us by the media and by the Obama machine.”
Voters came to the caucuses with various issues at the front of their minds. Broadly, “the economy” was the No. 1, but it wasn’t the only item on the list.
Several Paul supporters cited “the Fed” and monetary policy as what was driving them to the polls.
Several Gingrich and Santorum supporters cited “foreign policy.” “The debt” also was a top pick among caucus goers, with voters of all stripes claiming their candidate was best equipped to rein in federal spending.
Voters were often critical of their own candidate when it came to the foreclosure crisis, Nevada’s ongoing economic disaster.
“The solutions being proposed are not applicable to us,” said Mary O’Brien, an unemployed woman who used to work as a collections agent for Sallie Mae. “We can’t qualify for a lot of programs. A lot of proposals are going around, but I haven’t seen anything that will help me.”
“I don’t think most of them have a clue of what’s going on,” said Mary McClellan, a realtor from Boulder City who caucused for Paul. “I think no one is addressing where we are. But I don’t know if I can complain about Republicans versus Democrats on that point.”
But other caucus goers were ready to point a finger of blame -- at Democrats.
Nestor, a banker, blamed the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. “Everyone should be able to have a house even if they can’t afford it ... You didn’t have to show any income because ‘it’s discriminatory’,” she said.
But most seemed to accept the Republican candidates’ free-market, hands-off approach to the foreclosure crisis.
“The government helped to create this mess. The government has to step back and let the market sort it out,” said Kathy Ely, a Romney supporter. “It’s a hard recipe, but it’s the best.”
Many of the people who cited “the economy” as the biggest challenge facing the country also pointed to Romney’s business acumen as a potential saving grace.
“We’ve got to get a businessman in there,” said Ryan Hamilton, 25, at Rancho High School. “Obama seems like a nice enough guy but he has no idea what he’s doing.”
Libertarians pointed to Paul’s raze-it-to-the-ground approach with federal financial institutions instead as the best way to tackle Nevada’s economic mess.
Caroline Martin said she would have voted for Paul four years ago had Nevada allowed write-ins on the ballot. When asked if she would bring herself to vote for an eventual non-Paul nominee, she said: “Possibly. If I can be convinced that he’s not Obama in a different suit.”
At a high school in Reno, Troy Ross, 48, and a member of the Army National Guard, caucused for Ron Paul. He gave a short, moving speech to the precinct's caucus of 35 people before the vote for Paul's fiscal policy and fiscal conservatism.
A colonel, he began his first tour in Iraq "believing we were doing the right thing" but came to realize "we're not. We're exerting our will on other people who don't want it," he told the audience.
His wife, Diana, and daughter Tiana, 21, also said they reported Paul.
The results? Five votes for Paul, the same as Gingrich; 22 votes for Romney; three for Santorum.
After, he said if Romney is the nominee, he'd support him. "The overarching issue is sending the country in a better direction," he said. "All the Republicans would do that better."
Anjeanette Damon, Karoun Demirjian, Conor Shine, Paul Takahashi, Cy Ryan and David Schwartz contributed.