Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mitt Romney Wins Nevada Caucus

Just a few days after his crucial victory in Florida, Mitt Romney won another landslide, in the Nevada Caucus. Although Romney won an overwhelming victory, less attention will be paid to it, largely due to Nevada's unusually high Mormon population. In our analysis of why early states have such influence, we noted that less weight is given to a victory if the winner has a unique advantage in the state. If the Mormon vote weren't a factor, Romney would be given much more credit for his big win in Nevada. Even so, one should remember that Nevada is not the only state where the Mormon vote could play a role. Western states like Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming will also be affected to some degree. This is especially important because some of those states might otherwise be receptive to a "Tea Party" candidate.

Nevada Caucus (70% reporting)
Romney -- 48%
Gingrich -- 23%
Paul -- 19%
Santorum -- 11%

Though votes are still coming in, it appears Romney replicated his 2008 performance, when he won half the vote. Given the fact that he won so big last time around, it would be difficult for him to improve by too much; winning half the vote in a four-way race is pretty close to the maximum. Once again, Romney won more than Gingrich and Santorum combined.

Nevada was Ron Paul's best state in 2008 as well; he had placed second. If anyone believed Paul had a chance of taking a state, Nevada would be it. As Paul is considered by most to be a fringe candidate, he got nowhere.

Importantly, Rick Santorum failed to beat Newt Gingrich or even come close. As long as he continues putting in numbers like this, Santorum will never be able to break out of the second (or third) tier of candidates. February will be Santorum's last opportunity to turn things around. If Santorum beats Gingrich or comes close in one of the contests, he would get a lot of favorable publicity and the dynamic of the race will shift. It's likely that many of the Gingrich supporters are willing--perhaps even eager--to try their luck with Santorum as the chief Anti-Romney. One good performance would be enough to shift the narrative. Santorum looks far behind Gingrich today, but Gingrich has suffered catastrophic collapses before.

For some time now, Elephant Watcher has viewed Santorum as a more natural Anti-Romney than Gingrich, because he can more convincingly make the argument that he is more conservative--and he may be perceived as more electable. Santorum didn't get a ticket into the race in Nevada, but there are still a few February contests where he has an opening.