GOP race turns to Colorado, Minnesota

By Shannon Mccaffrey

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 5 2012 5:40 a.m. MST

LAS VEGAS — Now it's on to Colorado, Minnesota and Maine.

With back-to-back victories fueling him, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney is looking toward the next states that hold GOP nominating contests as main rival Newt Gingrich brushes aside any talk of abandoning his White House bid — all but ensuring the battle will stretch into the spring if not beyond.

Shortly after losing big to Romney here, the former House speaker emphatically renewed his vow to campaign into the party convention in Tampa this summer. His goal, he said, was to "find a series of victories which by the end of the Texas primary will leave us at parity" with Romney by early April.

Next up to vote are Colorado and Minnesota, which both hold caucuses Tuesday. Maine follows on Saturday during a month that promises to be as plodding as January was rapid-fire in the presidential race.

Romney will look to maintain his position of strength, if not build upon it, as his rivals continue working to derail him even as their options for doing so narrow with each victory he notches.

As Saturday turned to Sunday, the former Massachusetts governor held a double-digit lead over his nearest pursuer as the totals mounted in Nevada, where fellow Mormons accounted for roughly a quarter of all caucus-goers. Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul vied for a distant second. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum trailed the field.

Returns from 16 of 17 counties early Sunday showed Romney with nearly 48 percent support, Gingrich with about 23 percent, Paul with 19 percent and Santorum with 11 percent.

Yet to report its results was Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and often accounts for half or more of the votes in a statewide election. Officials said it could be Sunday before those were released.

Romney's victory capped a week that began with his double-digit win in the Florida primary. That contest was as intense as Nevada's caucuses were sedate — so quiet that they produced little television advertising, no candidate debates and only a modest investment of time by the contenders.

A total of 28 Republican National Convention delegates were at stake in caucuses held across the sprawling state. Romney won at least 10, Gingrich at least four, Paul at least three and Santorum at least two. Eight were still to be determined.

That gives Romney a total of 97, including endorsements from Republican National Committee members who will automatically attend the convention and can support any candidate they choose. Gingrich has 30, Santorum 16 and Paul seven. It will take 1,144 delegates to win the Republican nomination.

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 President Barack Obama this fall, a finding in line with other states.

About one-quarter of those surveyed said they were Mormon, roughly the same as in 2008, when Romney won with more than a majority of the vote in a multi-candidate 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.

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