Turnout was far below that of the primaries in Florida, South Carolina or New Hampshire and less than in Iowa’s caucuses.
Romney was far ahead of his closest rivals. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) were battling for second place. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was running fourth. Counting in Clark County was extremely slow late Saturday, delaying final results.
Addressing cheering supporters in Las Vegas, Romney largely ignored his opponents and focused on President Obama’s handling of the economy. “America needs a president who can fix the economy because he understands the economy,” he said. “I do and I will. This president began his presidency by apologizing for America. He should now be apologizing to America.”
As Romney celebrated his third victory in five contests, his rivals vowed to continue fighting. Gingrich spoke to reporters, forgoing the traditional post-election rally. “We will continue the campaign all the way to Tampa,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to withdraw.” Then, in an extraordinary performance, Gingrich spent much of the rest of his news conference denouncing Romney in harsh and personal terms, signaling a rough ride ahead for the party.
Santorum, meanwhile, said Saturday night that he would make the strongest nominee against Obama. “This race is a long, long way from being over,” he told CNN, adding, “Eventually this race will come to us.”
But the calendar provides those chasing Romney with few opportunities for victory in coming weeks. Gingrich and Santorum each would like to take on Romney without the other draining off conservative votes, but neither has shown any interest in bowing to the other. Paul demonstrated again in Nevada that he can do well in caucus states with limited turnout but has yet to show real strength in a big state.
The first weeks of the Republican race have played out at the pace of a sprint. But the primary-caucus calendar slows to a walk in February, before resuming with a flurry of contests March 6, this year’s Super Tuesday.
Romney is favored in Colorado on Tuesday, whereas Minnesota is less predictable. Maine caucuses began Saturday but will not be completed for a week. Both Arizona and Michigan are regarded as Romney territory at this point. Gingrich’s first real opportunities won’t arrive until Super Tuesday.