Just four days after notching his most convincing win of the primary season so far, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney made it two in a row by taking Saturday night's Republican caucus in Nevada with 47.6 percent of the vote. In a season where three different candidates have won the first four contests, that gives Romney the distinction of being the first to grab two consecutive wins.
"This is not the first time you've given me your vote of confidence, and this time I'm going to take it to the White House," a clearly excited Romney said at a victory speech, where he once again turned his attention away from his Republican opponents and on President Obama.
Unlike Florida, where Representative Ron Paul didn't compete in order to focus on Nevada and other upcoming states, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was forced to suspend his campaigning to deal with a sick child, all four remaining candidates worked the road in the first Western contest of the season.
After coming in 14 points behind Romney in Florida, Newt Gingrich was hoping for a solid comeback but could not rely on a strong debate performance, as there was not one in advance of the latest battle. On Saturday night he finished well behind Romney, rolling up just 22.7 percent of the vote (with 71 percent of precincts reporting at press time). While Romney took to the stage in a room full of cheering supporters, the Gingrich headquarters was a stark contrast, an empty room where the former House Speaker spoke to reporters via television. "I am a candidate for president of the United States," Gingrich said. "I will be the candidate of the president of the United States."
Romney won Nevada handily in 2008, taking 51 percent of the vote because his rivals in the last GOP primary race basically let him run unopposed assuming the state's large Mormon population would ensure Romney — who is Mormon — a win. Though Mormons only account for 7 percent of the state's population (around 180,000), they are rabid voters and reliably make up one-quarter of Republican caucus-goers.
But it wasn't it as clear-cut this time. Even Santorum, who has moved to the back of the pack since his recount win in Iowa a month ago, put up a strong battle, though he ended up in fourth place with just 11.1 percent. And Paul, who was counting on the state's vocal Tea Party contingent and independent voters to come out for him, had a decent showing in third place with 18.6 percent.
As he did in Florida, Romney came in with a much bigger ground game than the rest of the field, a record of visiting the state often over the past year-and-a-half and, for what it's worth, the endorsement of real-estate mogul and once-potential candidate Donald Trump.
Regardless of the results, unlike winner-take-all Florida, no actual delegates will be awarded following the Nevada caucus. As in Iowa, delegates will be elected to go to the county convention and then to a state gathering, who will then decide where the state's 34 delegates go to the GOP convention in Tampa. It's possible the delegates who go to Florida in late August may not reflect the final results of Saturday's vote.
Voting also began Saturday in Maine's caucus, whose vote will take place over the next week. More voters go to the polls on Tuesday, when Colorado and Minnesota also caucus.