LAS VEGAS — Republicans Ron Paul and Rick Santorum ignored Florida's primary and campaigned out west Tuesday, turning their attention to delegate-rich caucus states and vowing to remain in the presidential contest.
While rival Mitt Romney cruised to a commanding win in Florida, Paul and Santorum both spoke to supporters in Nevada, which holds its caucus Saturday. The Texas congressman and Pennsylvania senator campaigned earlier in the day in Colorado, whose caucus is Feb. 7.
Paul skipped Florida completely to focus on caucus states, gambling on the low-cost, high-yield delegate strategy President Barack Obama adopted during the 2008 Democratic contest.
Speaking to a packed ballroom at a casino outside Las Vegas, Paul told supporters he had called Romney to congratulate him on his Florida win.
"I'll see you soon in the caucus states," Paul said he told Romney. The crowd cheered loudly.
Paul planned to spend the rest of the week in Nevada and then head to Minnesota, whose caucus is Feb. 7. He campaigned last weekend in Maine, whose caucuses begin Feb. 4 and continue until Feb. 11.
"The message of this election is loud and clear and it has to be translated into proper political action and attending the caucuses and sending a message that we want more freedoms back and we don't want more government," Paul said.
Santorum, in Las Vegas, warned supporters that the bitter Florida battle between Romney and Newt Gingrich had hurt the party and that it was imperative for the campaign to move forward.
"Republicans can do better. We can do better than the discussion and the dialogue that were going on in the state of Florida and where this campaign went downhill," Santorum said of the infighting that reached a fever pitch in recent days.
"What we've seen the last few weeks in Florida is not something that is going to help us win this election. Let's put those issues behind us and focus on the real issue, which is defeating Barack Obama," he said. "We're not going to do that by mudslinging."
Left unsaid are the considerable obstacles facing Paul and Santorum.
Santorum's standing in the field has fallen precipitously since he eked out a win in the Iowa caucuses last month. His campaign is bleeding money and has only a skeletal organization in states with upcoming contests.1 comment on this story
Santorum raised more than $4 million since his surprise showing in Iowa, and aides said he had more than $1 million in the bank. He started spending some of that on television ads in Colorado and Nevada with an ad that likened Gingrich's views to Obama and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Paul's intensely loyal base of supporters can be counted on to stay with him as the race proceeds. But Paul hasn't won a single contest and his views — particularly on foreign policy — are far outside the Republican Party mainstream.
Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt in Colorado and Oskar Garcia in Nevada contributed to this report.