Nevada drew little attention in the nominating campaign but figures to be a fierce battleground in the fall between the winner of the GOP nomination and Democratic President Obama.
Front-runner Mitt Romney’s cruised to a projected victory in Nevada’s caucuses, earning a second straight win. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul are vying for second with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum trailed the field.
The former governor has the advantages of cash and a strong political organization as the contest heads to states that appear friendly, including Colorado and Minnesota. In 2008 he won the nomination in Colorado where he also grew up and his father was Minnesota’s governor.
Gingrich says he’s staying in the presidential nominating contest. He’s waged a limited campaign in Nevada, with just a handful of events and no TV ads.
As for the caucus goers — preliminary figures show one in four voters was Mormon, as is Romney, with nine in 10 backing him. Romney also carried Catholics and Protestants.
Also four out of 5 voters called themselves conservative, tying Nevada with Iowa as the most conservative group of voters yet in this year’s five GOP presidential contests. Nearly six in 10 supported Romney, who until now, has won no more than four in 10 conservative vote.
Looking at the numbers, it appears the turnout at the Reno caucuses and surrounding Washoe County is much lower than it was four years ago. About 6,900 party members cast ballots in 459 precincts at 15 caucus sites countywide.
That represents an eight percent turnout among the 34,000 voters. By comparison, turnout was 396,000 statewide during the 2008 GOP caucus.
Then in Las Vegas, a Los Angeles Times reporter was removed from a caucus location after some voters accused her of being a spy. Reporter Ashley Powers says she was thrown out after a volunteer told voters members of the media didn’t have permission to observe balloting.
Powers claims the crowd then booed her as she left the room while they voted, and when she tried to return, she was grabbed and pushed. A Clark County GOP official later called to apologize to Powers for the misunderstanding.
Also in southern Nevada, a number of people planning to attend the caucusing at Green Valley High School in Henderson thought it was open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and that they could arrive at any time. Unfortunately people were still coming when caucusing ended about 10:30 a.m. and they were turned away.
This caused many voters to complain about the process and still others to sign petitions to return to a primary election process. In Carson City, many signed a petition urging the state’s GOP to return to the primary system.
The last presidential primary in Nevada was held in 1996. Because of high costs and low turnout, the party moved to a caucus system.
This is the same place where hundreds of voters who turned out early were able to “vote and go” hours before precinct meetings began. Allowing early balloting in Carson City was an exception in the state.
Yet bitter cold temperatures didn’t stop dozens of people from lining up before sunrise in Carson to caucus. About 40 people waited outside, where the overnight temperature hit 14 degrees.
Then there’s the northern Nevada Republican leader who went much more than the extra mile to make sure every presidential caucus ballot was counted. In fact she went 223 extra miles.
That was Washoe County GOP board member Vicky Maltman’s round-trip from Reno to Gerlach to retrieve 23 votes cast at the towns high school. A state game warden accompanied Maltman for the trip in a separate vehicle.