- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 4, 2012

LAS VEGAS — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney powered to his second straight victory in the Republican presidential nomination battle Saturday, easily winning Nevada’s caucuses and building momentum likely to carry him through this month’s series of contests.

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich denied rumors he would withdraw from the race and blamed the Romney campaign for spreading them — and accused Mr. Romney of running a campaign with a record “level of ruthlessness.”

The caucuses themselves were chaotic, drawing complaints from many of the GOP’s rank-and-file voters, and results were still coming in slowly Sunday morning. But with 70 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Romney was winning 48 percent of the vote, Mr. Gingrich had 23 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 19 percent, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had 11 percent.

Still, news organizations called the race just after 7 p.m. local time based on exit polls that showed Mr. Romney with a substantial lead, winning across nearly every demographic in a thorough drubbing of his opponents.

In one key finding, Mr. Romney won a majority of voters who identified themselves as “very conservative” — the first time any of the candidates this year has done that. He also won 62 percent of those who said they are “somewhat conservative,” and won a majority of moderate and liberal voters, too.

With his victories in New Hampshire, Florida and now Nevada, Mr. Romney has shown he can win across the country, while his opponents have only been able to win in the states with the most socially conservative electorates.

At a victory party at the Red Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Mr. Romney paid little attention to his fellow candidates and went straight at President Obama, blaming him for the extended economic downturn and saying he had little to do with this week’s news that the unemployment rate had dipped.

“We welcome any good news on the jobs front, but it is thanks to the innovation of the American people and the private sector, not to you,” he said.

Mr. Romney’s electability is a chief reason he’s earning support from those such as Neal and Linda Williams, who said they had watched all the debates and increasingly were impressed with the former governor.

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

For his part, Mr. Gingrich did not host a victory party but instead called a press conference, where he vowed to stay in the race and fight all the way to the convention.

“I’m actually pretty happy with where we are, and I think the contrast with Governor Romney is going to get wider and wider and clearer and clearer,” Mr. Gingrich said.

He said the last week helped his cause, pointing to Mr. Romney’s comment that the “very poor” don’t concern him — a remark that Mr. Romney later said was a mistake but that Mr. Gingrich said will be a problem for the former Massachusetts governor going forward.

Mr. Gingrich said his plan is to try to try to win enough contests over the next two months to be even in the delegate count with Mr. Romney by the time Texas Republicans vote in their April 3 primary.

His press conference, held in a basement meeting room at the Venetian Hotel, drew a handful of television cameras for coverage — a far cry from his high point in South Carolina, where his victory party was packed with supporters and press.

The other two candidates on the caucus ballot, Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum, already had jetted elsewhere — both were campaigning in Minnesota on Saturday.

Mr. Paul did manage to win two sparsely populated counties bordering Death Valley National Park. In one of those — Esmeralda County — only 58 people voted, and Mr. Paul nipped Mr. Romney 20 votes to 19.

Mr. Gingrich won Mineral County, with his 39 votes besting Mr. Romney’s 37.

Next up are caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a nonbinding primary in Missouri, all on Tuesday. Maine also is holding caucuses this entire week.

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