As expected, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney swept through the Nevada Caucuses on Saturday, but with less of a margin than expected. In fact, his performance this weekend fell short of four years ago when he captured 51 percent of the vote against certainly stronger competition at commensurate points in the two races. As you’ll remember, John McCain who placed a distant third to Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) in Nevada, would rebound to capture the Republican nomination.
Romney did not score a majority among the caucus attenders. With almost one-third of the votes left to count, the former Massachusetts governor is placing a clear first with 49.6 percent, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (21 percent), Rep. Paul (18 percent), and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (10 percent).
Romney’s total was not the only Nevada figure that was down on Saturday. Voter participation was also much lower when compared to the 2008 total turnout number. With the current votes now finally tabulated, the number of participants is recorded as 30,306. Four years ago, turnout was 44,315.
Nevada has polled consistently as one of Romney’s three strongest states, the other two being New Hampshire and Michigan. Yet, in what is now his third primary or caucus victory, the front-runner has yet to claim a majority of the votes cast. This is surprising with regard to Nevada, since he is opening up his largest national lead of the recent campaign and comes immediately after a big Florida win. Gingrich’s effort is now clearly stalling. Paul has likely hit his support ceiling. Santorum now absorbed his third consecutive disappointingly poor performance.
If anything, though, Nevada cemented Mr. Romney’s overall lead and makes the chances of him winning the nomination even greater than before the vote. While Nevada still reveals his weakness within the Republican voting base, particularly among those considering themselves to be most conservative, the remaining three contenders continue to decline. Despite Gingrich’s proven ability to bounce back into contention – he’s already done so twice just in this campaign – it is unlikely he can recover again to the point of becoming an actual threat to Romney. Paul will never exceed his small base within the party, mostly due to his position on foreign affairs and some social issues, and Santorum has failed to unite and energize conservatives.
The one scenario where Romney wins the Republican nomination appears to be unfolding. His path to victory dictated that no one opponent could gather enough support to isolate him into a virtual one-on-one battle. If that were to happen, polls have consistently shown that the other candidate – almost whomever it was – would defeat him.
Nevada made two points in relation to Romney. First, it makes him the clear, and perhaps prohibitive, favorite to win the nomination. Second, it still shows his inherent weakness within the Republican voting structure. Once again, and most probably, President Barack Obama is the candidate faring best through these five Republican nominating events. Romney has serious work to accomplish in order formulate a united base behind him for what promises to be a heated and divisive general election campaign.