Former governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) scored his most decisive win to date in the Nevada Republican caucus tonight, winning the race by more than 15 percent and leaving former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) to battle for second place again with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) again a distant fourth.
But despite Paul's expectation that the caucus format would benefit his campaign, Paul looked to place a significant distance behind Gingrich.
Romney took the stage just before 10:40 ET, introduced again by his wife, Ann, to thank supporters and slam Obama, reminding voters that Obama encouraged people to avoid coming to Nevada for conventions and meetings. Romney then took aim at Friday's encouraging unemployment statistics, suggesting that the "real" unemployment rate was closer to 15 percent, a nod to the underemployment rate, which is down from 17.2 percent in January 2010.
In what is now a frequent refrain, Romney told his audience, "This president began his presidency by apologizing for America, now he should apologize to America" adding that the president should stop making excuses for the ongoing economic crisis. "Our vision for the future could not be more different from his," Romney said, promising to cut government, reduce the government's share of the total economy and balance the federal budget without raising taxes. In another statement common to his speeches, Romney said that Obama "demonizes and denigrates" entrepreneurs that his Administration would promote. And, of course, he promised to repeal "Obamacare" and rescind the recent Obama Administration ruling that forces employer insurance to provide coverage for birth control, which has been under fire from religious employers and religious groups -- a point Romney made in his Tuesday night speech after the Florida primary. He then asked people to remember that their ancestors came to American "for the pursuit of happiness, not the pursuit of hand-outs," and asked them to vote for him in November, making this one of his shortest speeches to date.
Gingrich took his small, press conference stage at the Venetian alone at 11:17 ET, promising the assembled reporters to go to Republican National Convention in Tampa in August as a candidate for President to honor his donors. He then slammed Romney for his comments earlier this week about the poor, saying that he wanted to "turn the social safety net into a trampoline." He then followed it by saying that he thought indexing the minimum wage to inflation was a terrible idea which would "kill jobs and stop access for young people." Following that, he called Romney a "Massachusetts moderate" that didn't represent the views of the GOP.
He then said, "Tonight he will probably do reasonably well, this is a heaving Mormon state," ignoring the fact that the race had already been called for Romney and indicating that he didn't yet know whether he or Paul had taken second place. He said he expected to be "at parity" with Romney after the Texas primary on April 4, almost a month after Super Tuesday.
In more odd answers, Gingrich called Romney a "Soros-backed" candidate and dismissed reports that his largest backer, Sheldon Adelson -- whose money reportedly paid for the anti-Romney documentary that solidified his win in South Carolina -- would eventually back Romney after Gingrich backed out. Adelson, Romney said, was solely interested in a nuclear Iran and its existential threat to Israel and Adelson's statements about Romney as unimportant.
"I'm not going to defend the outcome in a state where I was outspent 5-to-1," Gingrich told another reporter when he was asked whether it was possible that voters just weren't "buying what you're selling." Gingrich stated that "I don't think the American people will support a campaign that suppresses turn-out," he said, and stated that he expected to be atop Gallup polls again by April. But despite saying that he didn't like negative campaigning and felt he did better while the campaign was positive, Gingrich refused to "unilaterally disarm" and stop his negative campaigning against Romney. Instead, he promised to bring "new tactics" to the next debate with Romney to counter what Gingrich termed his blatant lies.
[This post was updated after results came in.]
[Image via Gage Skidmore on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]