- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 4, 2012

HENDERSON, Nev. — It was chaos, but voting began Saturday in Nevada’s Republican presidential caucuses as Mitt Romney sought to continue his momentum and three other candidates tried to derail his bid.

Results weren’t due until late in the night, thanks to a special evening caucus slated to be held in Clark County to allow observant Jews and others with religious conflicts earlier in the day to have their votes count.

Polls showed Mr. Romney with a significant lead here in a state he also won in 2008, but Rep. Ron Paul was counting on a strong organization to boost his showing. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were also competing.

At Green Valley High School in Henderson, turnout was exceptionally high but the process was disjointed. As registration began, hundreds of late-middle-aged voters roamed 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.”

Nevada’s caucuses are sandwiched in between Florida’s primary last Tuesday and caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday, as well as a non-binding primary in Missouri.

And given that schedule, several candidates have already fled the state — Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum were in Minnesota, hoping to get a head start.

In Nevada, voters openly griped about the process, with several saying they were going to push for a primary next time around to head off the confusion.

In Classroom 800, where Precincts 7405 and 7730 were meeting at the same time — the school wouldn’t open any more rooms up — confusion reigned from the beginning.

Caucus-goers in one of the precincts challenged the way the election of delegates to the county convention came before the presidential selection poll, while 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 backing Mr. Romney in Precinct 7405, while 10 feet away a man was endorsing Mr. Paul in Precinct 7730. Moments later a man backed Mr. Santorum in 7730, though his backing was lukewarm.

Mr Santorum was not vetted real well. I don’t think we know a whole lot about him, but on his website he’s a big family man. In my case almost too much social issues and not enough military,” the man said. I think he’d make a good president if he de-emphasized the family.”

And 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, winning 34 votes. Mr. Santorum won two, Mr. Paul won one — from Jeremiah Rounds, the man who spoke on his behalf — and Mr. Gingrich didn’t win any supporters.

Electability was the chief issue for Neal and Linda Williams, who said they’d watched all the debates and have been increasingly impressed with Mr. Romney.

“His chances to win. I think his debating skills have improved. His business acumen,” said Mr. Williams, describing what brought him around to Mr. Romney. He said he’d initially been a backer of Mr. Gingrich, but the renewed focus on his “baggage” changed that.

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