Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucuses by a wide margin on Saturday night, quickening the front runner’s pace toward the Republican presidential nomination. The victory, his second blowout in a week, set the tone for the quiet month ahead in which only two more major contests are scheduled: primaries in Arizona and Michigan on the 28th. As the race enters a lull, Romney is in control.
With 43% of precincts reporting, the former Massachusetts governor claimed 43% of the vote, dominating almost all demographic groups, according to entrance polls, including more than 90% of Mormon voters, who make up roughly a quarter of the electorate. Newt Gingrich placed second with 26% of overall votes, while Ron Paul followed at 18% and Rick Santorum finished last with 13%.
(PHOTOS: Political Pictures of the Week)
The result was a blow to Gingrich, still reeling from his defeat in Florida less than a week ago, and Paul, who skipped the winner-take-all Sunshine State primary to try to forge coalitions in caucus states like Nevada. Nonetheless, both candidates plan to stay in the race, a fact of which Gingrich felt the need to remind reporters multiple times during his sober, hoarse press availability Saturday night.
“I am a candidate for President of the United States. I will be a candidate for the President of the United States.” Gingrich said between shots at Romney. (He twice mentioned Romney’s recent comments about “the very poor.”) “We will continue with the campaign all the way to Tampa,” where the GOP will hold its convention in August.
The loss came at the same time as another piece of stinging news for Gingrich: Sheldon Adelson, the deep-pocketed Las Vegas benefactor of Gingrich’s super political action committee, has reportedly reached out to Romney’s campaign to communicate his willingness to support Romney should he become the nominee. That doesn’t mean Adelson is turning off the faucet for Gingrich, who said he’s unconcerned by the gesture, but the signal is clear: everyone, even his opponent’s financiers, is getting accustomed to the idea of Romney as the nominee.
Romney’s remaining test is to consolidate his base and mitigate damage to his popularity as he emerges from the GOP field. After a loss to Gingrich in South Carolina necessitated a detour attacking the former Speaker in Florida, Romney has returned to form, slashing Obama to ribbons while mostly ignoring his Republican rivals.
His victory speech on Saturday night was no exception, a formulaic affair with virtually no mention of the GOP race and only one new anti-Obama zinger added to the familiar repertoire: “He began his term by apologizing for America. He should now be apologizing to America,” Romney told the boisterous Vegas crowd.
Romney focused so much on Obama, in fact, it was easy to lose sight of his Nevada victory. The candidate made only one mention of it at the beginning of his speech. “This was not the first time you gave me your vote of confidence,” Romney said, referring to his similarly commanding victory in the state four years ago. “And this time, we’re going to take it all the way to the White House.” After Saturday night, he’s that much closer.