Gerald Herbert, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, greets supporters after speaking at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012.

LAS VEGAS — Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney jumped to a strong lead in the Nevada caucuses Saturday night, reaching for a second straight campaign victory over a field of rivals suddenly struggling to keep pace.

Returns from three of the state's 17 counties showed the former Massachusetts governor gaining 41 percent of the vote in a state where fellow Mormons turned out in heavy numbers.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was running second with 27 percent, while Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 16 percent and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was close behind with 15 percent.

A victory for Romney would cap a week that began with a 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.