It’s caucus day in Nevada, and Mitt Romney – according to polls - is poised for an easy victory. It is true that because of the low number of participants (about 44,000 in the 2008 Nevada GOP caucus), it is much more difficult to poll a caucus state than it is a primary; pollsters need to work much harder to locate potential caucus voters. In 2008, no poll came within 20% of Romney’s final total, if I recall correctly. So we should be somewhat skeptical that the final results will perfectly match the latest polling figures. Nonetheless, based on Romney’s performance in Nevada in 2008, the state’s demographics, and the size of his polling lead, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say Mitt should win easily today.
Nonetheless, there are a number of interesting subplots that I’ll be following. Most importantly, of course, this is a nomination race that will be won by accumulating delegates. All three of Romney’s rivals – Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum – are showing no indications that they are going to leave the race any time soon. Although no delegates are directly awarded based on today’s caucus results – it’s only the first of a three-step process – the results do generally provide an indication of the eventual delegate allocation for the state. With that in mind, all four candidates are hoping to mobilize their base and win a chunk of delegates. Here’s what to expect.
Mitt will win this, barring a major upset. The question is by how much? Ideally, he wants to win big – preferably with more than 50% of the vote – to drive the media toward the inevitability narrative. He also wants turnout to be up to reverse the perception that his wins haven’t been characterized by the high turnout that one associates with enthusiastic supporters. He’s counting on a strong turnout among the state’s Mormon population to reverse that perception. One question is whether his “I’m not focused on the poor” remarks will hurt him in a state where unemployment is over 12%.
Gingrich has been running most strongly among the Tea Party faction, but – at about 30% of likely voters – they are not quite as large in the more moderate Nevada as they have been in other states, and Sharron Angle, the Tea Party favorite in the 2010 Senate race, has already come out in favor of Santorum. (In 2008, entrance polls indicated 24% of caucus participants characterized themselves as evangelical, and 40% as conservative.) But so far the Tea Party has shown little inclination to back Mitt in broad numbers. Will that change in Nevada? Or will they unite behind Newt as the “non-Mitt”? And can they recapture the energy that drove the movement in 2010? Gingrich has been very slow to get an organization going in Nevada, and it is unclear how much that will hurt him today.
Santorum has been appealing to social conservatives, but the main issues in Nevada are the economy, with unemployment over 12%, and the housing collapse – Nevada is among the leaders in home foreclosures. Can Santorum broaden his appeal to include the economic populists who may be looking for an alternative to Romney? He has been working hard to cut into Gingrich’s support by trying to portray Newt as the “moon man” with the grandiose ideas. That didn’t work in Florida, but it may play better here.
This is Ron Paul’s second time around in Nevada. In 2008 he finished a distant second to Romney, with 14% of the vote, so he knows the lay of the electoral land. Can he get his committed Paulistas to come out on his behalf? Note that he is banking big on picking up chunks of delegates in the caucuses in Nevada, Maine (which also begins voting today), Colorado and Minnesota. In contrast to Gingrich and Santorum, he is better organized to do so.
As I noted in my previous post, there are (eventually) 28 nonbound delegates at stake. Most of the state’s caucuses will be held starting from 3-6 Eastern Time and continuing until the voting. Although one of the bigger caucuses in Clark County may run much later, I expect early results to be announced by 8 p.m. tonight, Eastern Time. I’m not sure how the networks are covering this, but I’ll be on later with updates as warranted.
It is rather pointless to make a prediction of the popular vote in a caucus state, but since you’ve come to expect it (and since I’ve been on something of a roll in my predictions), here goes:
As always, no wagering at home. Remember, I’m a professional. I’ll be back on shortly before 8 p.m. In the meantime, here’s some vintage Elvis to keep you occupied:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said Sharron Angle endorsed Romney – as Jason points out, that was incorrect. She’s endorsed Santorum. I’ve made the correction in the text.
2:16 UPDATE. Early caucus results are trickling in via Tweeter posts. My back of the envelope addition has the return pretty close to what I predicted so far – Mitt getting 50%, with Newt slightly besting Paul for second and Rick trailing far behind.
4:01 UPDATE. Just eyeballing precinct results (and keep in mind there’s more than 1800 precincts that have to report) it looks like Romney is cleaning up and is on pace to break 50%. Of course, this is all preliminary. Second place looks to be a battle between Paul and Gingrich. Again, nothing official will be reported until 8 p.m. eastern time, and a few precincts won’t even have reported by then.
5 p.m. UPDATE. It’s fascinating to keep track of the twitterverse musings re: Nevada – there’s a distinct anti-Newt bias among the top tweeters who appear to be pushing a Paul second-place finish. It makes it hard to know who is trying to push results by reporting precinct results. Although it appears Gingrich is ahead, the claim is that Paul will gain as the rural precincts begin reporting. I confess that I have no idea.
5:12 Newt has scheduled a late night press conference (by eastern time – it’s 8 p.m. pacific), and already the twitterverse is alive with rumors that he’s withdrawing. Doubtful. Very very doubtful.
5:30 Gingrich supporters are tweeting furiously to remind everyone that many precincts are remaining open to allow Jewish voters observing the Sabbath to vote.
5:40 The entrance polls apparently are showing about 26% Mormon turnout – not much different from 2008, as I recall. And it does not appear turnout is up over 2008 either.
5:50 – The ratio of Mormons to evangelicals is almost exactly the same this year as it was in 2008. This tells me Mitt is likely to reprise his 2008 performance, but not much more.
I’ll be switching to a new post at 6 when The Cable begins live coverage. As always, you are invited to join in.