Mitt Romney has won the Nevada caucuses. The outcome wasn’t a surprise, but the margin may be as large as 20 points. Romney benefited from strong Mormon turnout — 91 percent of his coreligionists voted for him — but he put together a broad enough coalition to win even if not a single Mormon had voted. He carried strong conservatives, self-described Tea Party sympathizers, evangelicals, and voters at every income except below $30,000 a year.
Romney becomes the first candidate in the 2012 race to win two binding contests consecutively. This will kick off a month in which Romney will attempt to reestablish his inevitability heading into Super Tuesday. While only 43 percent of precincts have reported as I write this, it appears that Newt Gingrich is likely to eke out a second place showing. Despite the potential consolation prize of beating a better-organized Ron Paul, the former House speaker may be melting down. He gave an odd, long press conference where he said he would be returning to a positive campaign but proceeded to attack Romney for everything from liberalism to lying to vote suppression. Gingrich is clearly not dropping out anytime soon.
Nevada demonstrated a shortcoming in Paul’s caucus strategy. According to most local accounts, Gingrich’s Nevada campaign was in shambles while Paul’s was a well-oiled machine. So why wasn’t Paul able to clean Newt’s clock in the caucuses? But there’s a bigger problem, which Paul’s son Rand alluded to in an interview with the Atlantic. The caucus state strategy worked for Barack Obama because Hillary Clinton largely bypassed those contests. Romney is contesting most caucuses and is strong in some of the same states where Paul has big pockets of support. Paul is still likely to amass delegates cost-effectively, as his Nevada showing is good enough to do, but to maximize the effect he needs victories.
Rick Santorum finished fourth in Nevada, not a natural state for him.