Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucuses easily today, solidifying his status as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
It was the former Massachusetts governor's second straight victory and his third primary win of the five nominating contests held so far to determine which GOP candidate will face President Barack Obama in November.
"You know this is not the first time you gave me your vote of confidence," Romney said tonight at a victory party at his Las Vegas headquarters. "And this time I gotta take it to the White House."
Romney sought to take credit away from Obama for Friday's positive jobs report and said he has a better grasp on how to help the country recover from an economic recession. "America needs a president who can fix the economy because he understands the economy. And I do, and I will," he said.
The Associated Press called the race just after 10 p.m. Eastern time with Romney showing a commanding 41 percent of the vote. With 15 percent of precincts reporting, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) had 25 percent, Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) had 20 percent and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) had 13 percent of the vote.
Candidates had just three full days of campaigning following Tuesday's primary in Florida. Romney carried Florida by 14 points and won all of the state's 50 delegates. He rolled into Nevada with a nearly 60-delegate lead.
Nevada will award 28 delegates proportionally and is the first of six nominating contests in February. After four states that featured bitter rhetoric on the trail and feisty debates, Nevada was tame by comparison, partly because the result was never in doubt. The Los Angeles Times reported that spending on television ads in the state was down as well.
Romney led by 20 points in a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll released on Thursday. He also won the Nevada caucuses in 2008.
"Since summertime, we got a state director and we were able to plug in much of the structure that we'd had from four years ago," Nevada-based Romney consultant Ryan Erwin told Roll Call from the road today, just after he voted. "The last five or six months we were really pushing hard."
The Romney campaign was expecting Mormon turnout to be in the "high-teens" as a percentage of the overall vote, though Mormons accounted for 26 percent in 2008. According to today's entrance polls, Mormons again made up 26 percent of the overall vote, and 91 percent them voted for Romney, who is also Mormon.
Erwin noted that one buried storyline from the 2008 race was Romney's dominance among Catholics and Protestants too. He won both groups today as well, with 53 percent of Catholics and 42 percent of Protestants supporting him.
Maine started its week-long caucuses today too. Next up on the calendar are Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota on Tuesday; Maine results on Feb. 11; and Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28. Super Tuesday, which includes 10 states, follows on March 6.
Believing he has a good shot in Minnesota, Paul spent tonight campaigning in that state. And before the Nevada results were in, Gingrich's campaign sent a release announcing the former Speaker would be campaigning in Colorado, Minnesota and Ohio this week.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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