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November 27, 2014

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As candidates battle in Florida, Rick Santorum to watch from Las Vegas

This Tuesday, all Republican eyes will be on Florida, as voters there cast ballots in the race to pick a presidential nominee.

Battling front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich’s campaigns are expected to go to the wire hoping to turn out enough voters to claim Florida’s 50 delegates — all of which go to the victor — as well as the important mantle of momentum heading toward next month’s primaries and caucuses.

GOP candidate Rick Santorum, however, will be watching from Las Vegas.

A Nevada Tea Party-cum-conservatives group run by Sharron Angle’s old boosters, T.R.U.N.C., is hosting Santorum for a Florida Primary results-watching party Tuesday night at the Santorum campaign’s Nevada headquarters in Las Vegas. The event is doubling as a way to find and build an army of canvassers and callers to promote Santorum in the few days that remain before Nevada’s GOP caucuses on Saturday.

Santorum has been a distant third, fourth or even fifth, depending on the state and the poll, since winning in Iowa. He doesn’t stand a chance of pulling out a victory in Florida.

Meanwhile, he has been resisting pressure to bow out of the race and throw his support to Gingrich, the erstwhile Speaker of the House who has managed to gather the support of most of the party’s conservative voters aided by endorsements from former presidential candidates Rick Perry and Herman Cain. Santorum’s core of supporters would likely be enough to vault Gingrich over Romney in Florida.

The states following Florida on the presidential nominating calendar are Santorum’s best chance to prove he’s a viable candidate — or at least still has a place in this race.

Nevada, however, will be an uphill battle.

Santorum staged one come-from-behind victory, in the Iowa caucuses, but there Santorum’s papal-inspired positions had a ready audience in the state’s large contingent of Christian conservatives.

Converting the Republicans of Las Vegas, however, will be a far more challenging task.

While Nevada saw a strong Tea Party uprising in 2010, the Republican Party in the Silver State is more libertarian than religiously conservative. The electorate in New Hampshire is similar — and there, Santorum came in fifth. But unlike New Hampshire, Nevada doesn’t allow independents to participate, meaning Santorum will face a more conservative electorate here. Plus with only four candidates remaining, he can’t finish further back than he did in the Granite State.

Santorum doesn’t have a lock on the Tea Party votes in the race. Many of the more-conservative Republicans are Ron Paul supporters.

Paul has a loyal following in Nevada: It’s not likely enough to to win the caucuses but enough to potentially win second place, as he did in 2008.

By the time Santorum arrives in Nevada late Tuesday, he will have made stops in Missouri and Colorado, both of which hold nonbinding primaries on Feb. 7, three days after Nevadans caucus on Feb. 4.

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