Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cruised to victory in Nevada’s GOP caucuses, while New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has won the state’s Democratic caucuses.
By Marie Horrigan
DEMOCRATIC PARTY OUTCOME
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won a close but clear-cut win in Saturday’s Nevada Democratic presidential caucuses. The former first lady pulled in just more than half the votes with nearly all precincts reporting and held a lead of several percentage points over her chief rival for the nomination, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who is fighting an increasingly uphill battle to stay in the running, finished well out of contention in Nevada.
Clinton shares Nevada caucus bragging rights with Republican Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, who cruised to an easy win in the state’s GOP caucuses held earlier Saturday. A more competitive outcome is expected in Saturday’s third presidential campaign event, the Republican primary in South Carolina, where polls are scheduled to close at 7 p.m.
With almost 90 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton had won 50.7 percent of the delegates to the April 19 Democratic state convention, which is the measure by which Nevada Democrats calculated the outcome of Saturday’s caucuses.
Obama won 45 percent of the delegates. The Las Vegas Sun reported that Obama left Nevada on Saturday to return home to Chicago and did not intend to make any post-caucus remarks.
Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, trailed far behind with 4 percent of the vote. The result, coming on the heels of his mediocre third-place showing behind Clinton and Obama in the New Hampshire primary Jan. 8, will intensify the “must win” situation in which Edwards finds himself in the run-up to the next Democratic voting event, the South Carolina primary next Saturday. Edwards, who carried South Carolina in his short-lived bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, was born in the state and represented its neighbor to the north in the Senate.
The two other candidates, both severe long shots, barely registered. Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich held just 4 of the 10,319 state convention delegates allocated in incomplete returns, and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel had none. There were 31 delegates selected as “uncommitted.”
Clinton was carried to victory by a big percentage and numerical advantage in Las Vegas and the rest of Clark County, at the state’s southern tip, home to more than half of the state’s population. With about 90 percent of Clark precincts reporting, Clinton won 55 percent to 44 percent for Obama in the county, which was allotted roughly 70 percent of the state convention delegates.
She accomplished this despite a dispute over the sitting of at-large precincts in nine casinos along the Las Vegas strip – an arrangement that some argued would benefit Obama, who had won the endorsement of the key Culinary Workers union in a city and state where the hotel, gambling, restaurant and entertainment industries are the major economic engines. The Nevada State Education Association, which backed Clinton, sued to block the use of those precincts. But a state judge ruled Thursday in favor of the state Democratic Party, which said the at-large precincts would create a better opportunity for caucus participation by shift workers employed within 2.5 miles of the casinos, who might not be able to return to their home precincts to caucus.
Despite concerns with the Clinton camp about the situation, she carried seven of the nine “casino precincts.”
Obama nonetheless did perform well across a wide swath of Nevada, including the counties that make the major population center in northern Nevada: Washoe, which includes the city of Reno, and Carson City County, where most residents live in the eponymous state capital city. Overall, Obama had the lead in 10 of the state’s 17 counties with nearly all the returns in.
Edwards’ best performance Saturday was in lightly populated Eureka County in the middle of the state, where he tied Clinton for second place with 26 percent of the delegates. Obama finished first there with 49 percent.
Clinton sent out a victory thank-you note to supporters and attributed her win to a strong message on economic issues. “People across the country are placing their faith in our campaign, especially those hardest hit by the recent downturn in the economy. We can’t let them down. We’re working together to bring about change, and America is responding to our efforts,” she said in the message, which was posted on her campaign Web site.
REPUBLICAN PARTY OUTCOME
Republican Mitt Romney won the Nevada presidential caucuses Saturday, according to multiple media outlets. The victory was his third among the five events so far in the Republican presidential nominating process.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, previously won in the low-profile Wyoming Republican county conventions on Jan. 5 and the Michigan primary Jan. 15. The latter marked a rebound after second-place showings in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary raised questions about his campaign’s viability.
The Nevada caucuses also coincided with the voting in Saturday’s Republican primary in South Carolina, where polls are scheduled to close at 7 p.m. Eastern time.
Romney held a strong lead with 53 percent of the vote, with just more than two-fifths of precincts reporting in the Nevada Republican Party’s official caucus count. The remaining candidates were bunched together well behind the front-runner. Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Arizona Sen. John McCain had 13 percent apiece, while former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee were virtually tied with 8 percent each.
Rounding out the returns were former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (5 percent), who essentially abandoned all early events and is staking his hopes for competing in the race on a major stand Jan. 29 in the Florida primary, and California Rep. Duncan Hunter (2 percent), who has trailed the field in polls throughout the campaign and in the early voting events so far.
The caucus campaign evolved into a one-sided affair, as Romney – by far the best-funded candidate in the Republican race and the best-suited to stage a state-by-state campaign on a national basis – was the only hopeful to actively pursue votes in Nevada. His travels to the state included rallies in Elko and Reno on Thursday, and he headed into the caucuses with endorsements from newspapers in both those cities.
Along with his superior financial resources, Romney’s Mormon faith gave him the benefit of support from the large Mormon population that resides in Nevada. While some Nevada Mormons affiliate with the Democratic Party, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, most of this strongly conservative-leaning constituency, including Gov. Jim Gibbons and freshman Rep. Dean Heller, aligns with Republicans. Nevada caucus entrance polls published by the Associated Press indicated that about a quarter of the GOP voters were Mormons and that they overwhelmingly preferred Romney.
The fact that McCain, who has represented the southwestern state of Arizona in Congress for more than a quarter-century, did not seriously compete to win in Nevada underscored how selective most candidates have had to be about which states they are targeting in the nominating process. McCain, who defeated Romney in New Hampshire, instead focused much more effort on trying to win Saturday’s primary in South Carolina – a contest billed as the “Gateway to the South” in the Republican presidential contest, and one in which polls suggest Romney will be an also-ran.
Despite the limited competition Romney faced in Nevada, he declared a larger meaning in the outcome that dovetailed with his campaign theme that his outsider candidacy can bring needed change to the nation’s government. “Today, the people of Nevada voted for change in Washington . . . I am ready to get my hands on Washington and turn it inside out,” he said in a statement.
Steve Wark, a caucus spokesman for the Nevada Republicans, said the event featured “overwhelming” turnout, but added there was not yet any hard data. “It’s been far more than we anticipated,” he said.
Early returns indicated Romney won 57 percent of the caucus vote in Clark County, the state’s most populous county – encompassing the cities of Las Vegas and suburban Henderson – with 2 million residents.
Romney also led in Washoe County, home to the northern Nevada population center of Reno, with 45 percent of the vote.