Ted S. Warren, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney reached confidently for his second straight campaign victory Saturday in Nevada caucuses so quiet that they produced little television advertising, no candidate debates and only a modest investment of time by the candidates.
Apart from Romney, who won the Florida primary earlier in the week, Texas Rep. Ron Paul was the only contender to make a significant effort in Nevada, while Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum conceded defeat in advance.
A total of 28 Republican National Convention delegates was at stake in caucuses held across a sprawling state that drew little attention in the nominating campaign but figures to be a fierce battleground in the fall between the winner of the GOP nomination and President Barack Obama. The state's unemployment rate was measured at 12.6 percent in December, the worst in the country.
According to the AP count, Romney began the day with 87 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination. Gingrich had 26, Santorum 14 and Paul 4.
Preliminary results of a poll of Nevada Republicans entering their caucuses showed that nearly half said the most important consideration in their decision was a candidate's ability to defeat Obama this fall, a finding in line with other states.
About one-quarter of those surveyed said they are Mormon, roughly the same as in 2008, when Romney won with more than a majority of the vote in a multicandidate field.
The entrance poll was conducted by Edison Research for the Associated Press at 25 randomly selected caucus sites. It included 1,553 interviews and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Nevada GOP's decision not to release any results from the caucuses until hours after they ended prompted a flurry of unconfirmed reports of vote results on the Internet. At most caucuses, the vote results at the precinct were announced publicly after the voting ended, and people identifying themselves as caucus attendees used Twitter to relay the unverified announcements.
At least one activist cumulated the tweets into candidate totals and posted them on an Internet blog. Purported final candidate totals in at least two counties also were available over Twitter, but party officials would not confirm any of the numbers.
The caucus rules were a demonstration of democracy and a reflection of religious diversity.
Nevada awarded its delegates in proportion to the caucus vote totals, meaning that any candidate who captured at least 3.57 percent of the total number of ballots cast would be rewarded. By contrast, Romney's victory in the Florida primary on Tuesday netted him all 50 of the delegates at stake there.
While most caucuses were held during the day, an exception was made in Clark County, the state's largest. There, party officials arranged to hold one meeting well after sundown at the request of orthodox Jews who observe bans on driving, writing or other work-a-day activities during the Sabbath.
Romney's victory in the state's 2008 caucuses, coupled with the heavy presence of voters who share his Mormon faith, turned Nevada into something of a way-station on the campaign calendar.
There are just over 175,000 Mormons in the state, roughly 7 percent of the population. But they accounted for nearly a quarter of all 2008 Nevada GOP caucus-goers.
Gingrich said he'd be happy to finish second, behind Romney and ahead of Paul. Paul, a Texas lawmaker, was one of two candidates to air television ads in the state, hoping for a close second-place finish if not an upset.
Romney was the other, joined by Restore Our Future, the ubiquitous organization that supports him and has been heavily involved in earlier states.
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