Romney opponents struggle for traction ahead of Saturday Nevada caucuses

Published: Friday, Feb. 3 2012 11:01 a.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to employees at WesternNevada Supply in Sparks, Nev., Friday, Feb. 3, 2012.

Associated Press

Heading into Saturday's binding Nevada caucuses, the battle is for second place, according to a Public Policy Polling survey, which finds Romney at 50 percent to 25 percent for Gingrich and 15 percent for Paul. Santorum lags at 8 percent.

Trailing badly in Nevada, Rick Santorum spent Friday in Missouri, where Tuesday's nonbinding primary with a strong evangelical base gives him a chance to regain relevance. He will then spend Saturday in Colorado ahead of Tuesday's nonbinding caucus there.

Relying on his fanatical legions of followers, Ron Paul hopes to close the gap in Nevada and clip Gingrich for second place in the Silver State.

At the San Francisco Chronicle Joe Garafoli sees Paul making a run for Nevada's Mormon vote, but he reveals such a charming, stereotyped and naive view of Nevada Mormon culture that his analysis smacks more of hope than reality.

Garafoli writes that Paul is "sending teams of supporters to canvass neighborhoods near Mormon temples. On their own, church members are talking up Paul in their tightly knit communities and appealing to their family-focused culture by passing out copies of 'The Ron Paul Cookbook.'"

Meanwhile, the presumptive runner up appears tired. The New York Times notes that Gingrich continues to struggle organizationally, fighting to hold onto his second-place status in Nevada. The former speaker has only two paid staff in the state and embarrassed himself by missing an appointment with Governor Brian Sandoval, who earlier had endorsed Rick Perry and who Gingrich hoped to bring over to his side.

Even more oddly, Gingrich staff fumbled Donald Trump's endorsement of Romney, leaking to the media the night before that the Donald was endorsing Gingrich, and then going AWOL for several hours while journalists tried to get a confirmation or denial. While the endorsement itself is of dubious import, the embarrassment of the erroneous headlines further deflates a struggling organization.

The Times also notes that Gingrich is struggling with exhaustion, and this past week trimmed his schedule in Nevada to one event per day.

Politico reports that Romney is on friendly turf in the western contests, including not just Nevada but Arizona and Colorado. It's not the Mormon vote per se, some say, but rather the familiarity with Mormons that removes the aura of mystery.

“The LDS thing I think is probably less of an issue here … because we’re so familiar with Mormons and the LDS faith,” Politico quotes Colorado Rep. Bob Beauprez as saying. “I think most people see them as patriotic folks, good neighbors, hard workers, wonderful family values. The mystery, if there’s any of that, just doesn’t exist out here.”

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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