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UPDATE: With approximately 71 percent of the precincts reporting, Mitt Romney maintains his comfortable lead with 48 percent of the vote, more than double New Gingrich’s 23 percent. Rep. Ron Paul is battling for second place with 19 percent while Rick Santorum clearly came in last with 11 percent.
In his victory speech Saturday night, Romney made it clear he was the Republican front-runner by focusing his words on President Obama and not his rivals for the GOP nomination. "This president began his presidency by apologizing for America. He should now be apologizing to America," Romney said.
“This week, he's been trying to take a bow for 8.3 percent unemployment. Not so fast, Mr. President,” Romney said. “The president's misguided policies have made these tough times last longer.”
Romney “once again benefited from a widespread belief among Republican caucus-goers that he is the best candidate to beat President Barack Obama in the fall,” notes the Wall Street Journal. Yet he lost badly among the 17 percent of voters who said they cared most about conservative credentials and sided with Ron Paul (45 percent), Newt Gingrich (31 percent) and Rick Santorum (19 percent), reports ABC News. And while it’s clear he benefitted from the high number of Mormon caucus-geors, he also beat Gingrich among evangelicals, 45-29 percent.
Still, Politico is quick to point out that Romney so far has “just medium-level momentum” considering that he was heavily favored in Nevada. But it will become “big mo” if Romney continues winning. Yahoo! News’ Chris Moody also puts the vote in perspective, noting that “turnout for the caucuses was not substantial.”
UPDATE Saturday, 10:56 p.m.: Mitt Romney easily obtained his third victory in the Republican primaries by winning the Nevada caucuses Saturday night. Television networks and the Associated Press were quick to declare him the winner after all caucus locations closed. It marked his second straight victory following a double-digit win Tuesday in Florida. The second place was too close to call between Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, while Rick Santorum finished fourth. Romney is now “the first GOP candidate in this cycle to score back-to-back wins,” notes CNN.
With around 15 percent of the results counted, Romney had approximately 42 percent of the vote, while Gingrich had 25 percent, Ron Paul 20 percent and Rick Santorum 13 percent, reports Yahoo! News. Network entrance polls showed Romney with comfortable leads in almost all voter groups, notes Politico, winning 57 percent of white voters, 57 percent of women and 53 percent of men. As expected, Romney benefitted from the large presence of Mormon voters. According to entrance polls, “Mormons made up about a quarter of caucus participants in Nevada today, by far the most of any of the earlier primary states,” reports ABC News. Perhaps most importantly Romney obtained “healthy margins of support form moderate and conservative Republicans alike,” writes NBC News.
The small number of Nevada delegates means Romney’s win is “more of a symbolic triumph than a practical one,” notes the New York Times. Indeed, it means he goes into the next primaries, which will be held in Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday, “with a big wave of momentum,” writes Reuters. And that could help him in the “more significant primaries in Michigan and Arizona at the end of the month,” points out the Washington Post’s Dan Balz. “The outcome will increase pressure on his rivals to demonstrate how and where they plan to stop him, if they can.”
POST Friday, 11:47 a.m.: Saturday's Nevada primary isn't shaping up to be much of a contest. A new poll out Friday shows Mitt Romney with a commanding lead in the Silver State, easily besting Newt Gingrich by a 2-to-1 margin.
Here are the latest numbers from Public Policy Polling: Romney 50 percent, Gingrich 25, Ron Paul 15, and Rick Santorum 8.
The polling firm estimates that Mormons will account for roughly a fifth of the turnout Saturday. As should come as little surprise, Romney dominates in that demographic, with a 78 to 14 lead over Paul. The current front-runner is doing well in other less-obvious categories as well, leading Gingrich 43-34 among those voters who described themselves as "very conservative." He's also the top choice for men, women, Hispanics, whites, and every age group the survey looked at.
"Mitt Romney is headed for a big win in Nevada on Saturday," said Dean Debnam, head of the polling firm. "The main suspense looks like it will be whether he can crack the 50% mark. He’s winning with virtually every demographic group we track."
Full numbers here.