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Romney rivals brush off losses in Nevada

Caucuses called disorganized

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 5, 2012

LAS VEGAS — Mitt Romney's victory in Nevada's Republican presidential caucuses Saturday set him up for a delegate-rich run through February, but did nothing to whittle down the field of four who say there's plenty of time to catch up.

More than 24 hours after most of the voting was completed, Nevada's GOP had yet to announce final numbers — underscoring a process that frustrated voters called chaotic. But with 70 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Romney had 48 percent of the vote — trailed by Newt Gingrich with 23 percent, Rep. Ron Paul with 19 percent and Rick Santorum with 11 percent.

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul are eyeing Tuesday's caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a nonbinding primary in Missouri, while Mr. Gingrich is talking about Texas' primary on April 3 as his campaign yardstick.

"Now we're getting to the states where people don't have the natural advantage, don't have the time commitment, the staff commitment to really build out an organization like they did in these first five," Mr. Santorum told "Fox News Sunday."

In a post-caucus news conference Saturday night, Mr. Gingrich was even more emphatic. Despite Mr. Romney's victory, he said, his campaign's performance over the past couple of weeks has strengthened arguments for staying in the race.

Mr. Gingrich pointed to record turnouts in South Carolina, which he won, and compared it with the drop in turnout in Florida, which Mr. Romney won.

He also leveled bruising allegations at Mr. Romney, saying he has run a campaign so "ruthless" and with such a "level of dishonesty" that it knocked Mr. Gingrich off his game. But he said he will be prepared to push back the next time — though he told reporters that they will have to just wait to see how.

"If you can't tell the truth as a candidate for president, how can the country possibly expect you to lead?" Mr. Gingrich said.

He said he expects to do well in the March contests, which include a number of Southern states, and said he expects to be competitive with Mr. Romney in the delegate count after Texas' primary in early April.

Final four move on

The field has had four major candidates since the run-up to South Carolina, which eliminated former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Texas Gov. Rick Perry from the race. Rep. Michelle Bachmann dropped out after the Iowa caucuses.

All four men remaining said they are determined to battle on.

Mr. Paul dismissed worries of some Republican strategists that the level of enmity among the candidates could hurt the eventual nominee.

"I don't worry about that," he told ABC's "This Week" program. "I worry about myself. I worry about the message. I worry about the country. I worry about the wars going on."

Mr. Paul said he doesn't see much difference among Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum on issues such as military commitments overseas or domestic spending, and that he plans to stay in the race to give voters a chance to show their approval of his message.

"I get energized because I know there's a large number of people who are looking for another option," he said.

The campaign overall has taken a decidedly angry turn in the past month, with Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich increasingly sniping at each other via interview sound bites and political ads.

The Nevada campaigning did little to cool the rhetoric. Mr. Gingrich said Mr. Romney's repeated verbal gaffes make the case for others to stay in the race.

He pointed to Mr. Romney's comment last week that the "very poor" don't concern him. Mr. Romney later said the remark was a mistake, but Mr. Gingrich said it will be a problem for the former Massachusetts governor going forward.

Disorganized in Nevada

Another story this week is just how chaotic Nevada's caucuses turned out. As of 5 a.m. Sunday, the state party still had not reported results in nearly 30 percent of precincts.

At the local level, things were just as disjointed.

At Green Valley High School in Henderson, a regional cheerleader competition began on one side of the school while voters were checking in on the other side, sending off hundreds of middle-aged voters to roam the school's hallways searching for their caucus rooms like freshmen on the first day of class.

"No, it's worse than that. We forgot to wear pants and we studied for the wrong exam," said one man who was in the middle of his second circuit without finding his room. "Welcome to the Nevada Republican Party."

In Classroom 800, precincts 7405 and 7730 were scheduled to meet at the same time because the school wouldn't open any more rooms.

Voters in one of the precincts challenged the way the election of delegates to the county convention came before the presidential selection poll. In the other precinct, voters and volunteers struggled to figure out whether the delegates would be bound to vote for whomever the precincts selected.

Then, when the time came for speeches, a woman on one side of the room was touting Mr. Romney to her precinct while 10 feet away a man was speaking on behalf of Mr. Paul.

The results were dramatically different.

Mr. Paul won Precinct 7405 with 16 votes, topping Mr. Romney with 10, six for Mr. Gingrich and one for Mr. Santorum. But in Precinct 7730, Mr. Romney steamrolled his rivals, winning 34 votes. Mr. Santorum won two votes, Mr. Paul won one and Mr. Gingrich didn't win any supporters.

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