Romney cruises to win in Nevada, Santorum shows signs of life

Mitt Romney

Photo: Gage Skidmore

Just days after a decisive win in the Florida primary, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney swept to victory in the Nevada caucuses Saturday, strengthening his position as the frontrunner in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. Meanwhile, polls in upcoming state primaries show former U.S. senator Rick Santorum potentially primed for a big week.

With 84 percent of precincts reporting, Romney led a field of four contenders, with 49 percent of the vote in Nevada. Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich followed at a distant second with 22 percent. Congressman Ron Paul was third with 19 percent of the vote and  Santorum last at 10 percent.

Romney, who won Nevada in 2008 with 51 percent of the vote, repeated his domination of the state’s caucuses. Boosting his efforts was the relatively large turnout of Mormon voters, who made up almost 25 percent of Republican caucus-goers in the Silver State.

The Nevada caucuses had little of the fiery debate or intense focus seen in earlier states like Florida, but Romney’s second consecutive decisive win reinforces the narrative of him rising once again to the front of the pack after a double-digit loss to Gingrich in South Carolina two weeks ago.

The results in Florida and Nevada place former frontrunner Gingrich in a difficult position as the nomination fight now moves away from singular contests to a nationwide campaign, with three states voting on Tuesday: Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. While Gingrich failed to qualify for Missouri’s non-binding primary, he trails in the polls in Colorado and Minnesota.

New numbers from Public Policy Polling show Romney favored by 40 percent of Colorado Republicans, with Santorum edging Gingrich in that state, 26-18 percent. Gingrich also trails both men in Minnesota, where Santorum holds a slim lead over Romney, 29-27 percent.

Those numbers, coupled with a survey last week showing Santorum with a lead over Romney in Missouri, indicate that Santorum could have a big Tuesday. If we wins or places a strong second in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, suddenly Santorum could emerge as the leading alternative to Romney, further eroding Gingrich’s chances of rebounding.

“Tuesday has the potential to be a huge day for both Romney and Santorum,” said Tom Jensen from Public Policy Polling. “A sweep for Romney would do much to enhance the feeling that he’s unstoppable. Wins for Santorum in Minnesota and Missouri would make it clear he’s a more viable alternative to Romney than Gingrich and give him a lot of momentum for the road ahead.”

Jensen added, “It looks like it will be another dark day for Gingrich, whose campaign it appears peaked two weeks ago in South Carolina.”

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