Romney Coasts to Victory in Nevada Primary, but Hurdles Remain

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  February 6, 2012 at 9:27 AM EDT

Mitt Romney; photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mitt Romney talks with his staff aboard his plane en route to Las Vegas for Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

The weekend’s drama was reserved for Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, not the Las Vegas strip.

Mitt Romney scored a 25-point victory in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, performing strong with every key demographic.

Not that anyone should be surprised.

As Jon Ralston, the dean of Nevada political journalism, put it on Friday’s NewsHour, “Romney has been running for president here and elsewhere for many years…. He has really worked Nevada.”

What’s more interesting was the battle for No. 2. It took a day after the caucuses before there was a final tally, but Newt Gingrich edged Ron Paul for second place by less than 800 votes. Turnout was lower than in the 2008 caucuses, which Romney also won.

Check out the final numbers in the NewsHour’s map center.

Romney still has the matter of those pesky rivals to contend with, and Rick Santorum is on the rise.

A new survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling found Santorum actually leading Romney, 29 percent to 27 percent, ahead of Tuesday’s Minnesota caucuses. Gingrich follows at 22 percent, while Paul is at 19 percent.

Santorum also holds a lead in a PPP poll of Republicans planning to participate in Tuesday’s non-binding contest in Missouri.

But Gingrich is looking months ahead.

In a round of Sunday show interviews, the former House speaker said his focus is on Super Tuesday states. He predicted that he and Romney would be tied in the delegate count by April.

“[B]y the time Texas is over, we’ll be very, very competitive in the delegate count,” Gingrich said on Meet the Press, leaving out the fact that it’s possible the Lone Star State will move its primary after April 3.

As the bitter presidential contest turns into a numbers game, the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner reports on the new strategy Gingrich forged while bunkered down in a Las Vegas casino:

The crux of the former House speaker’s new plan is math: a complex analysis of each state’s delegates, how they’re awarded and how many, reasonably, Gingrich can expect to win. He will focus heavily on upcoming Southern states, where he expects his Georgia roots and conservative rhetoric to play well. And he will step up his attacks on his leading rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, for being too liberal to take on President Obama in the fall. Gingrich confirmed the strategy in a meeting with reporters in a nearly empty hotel ballroom here Saturday night after the Nevada results showed him losing to Romney by more than 20 percentage points. The results stood in stark contrast to Gingrich’s confidence that he could go on to win.

Does Gingrich have the finances to stay in the fight?

The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg write from Las Vegas that billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has told associates he would pony up cash for Romney in a general election, despite having bankrolled Gingrich. Still, an Adelson friend and Romney fundraiser is quoted in the story noting that “Sheldon is committed to keeping [Gingrich] in the race as long as he wants to stay in.”

The story also notes that Romney initiated a phone call with Adelson that aides said was “cordial” and included Adelson “even sharing some advice about his campaign message.”

SUPER BOWL SIT-DOWN

Shortly after taking office three years ago, President Obama told Matt Lauer of NBC News in a Super Bowl Sunday interview that if he did not get the economy turned around in three years, his presidency was “going to be a one-term proposition.” The Republicans have been using that remark in campaign material.

When Lauer reminded Mr. Obama in an interview before Sunday’s Giants-Patriots game that, in fact, three years have transpired, the president said, “I deserve a second term, but we’re not done.”

“We’ve made progress,” the president added. “The thing right now is to just make sure we don’t starting turning in a new direction that could throw that progress off.”

With the economy showing signs of life, most recently in the form of last Friday’s Labor Department report that found 243,000 jobs were added in January, the president is making the case to voters that they should stay the course, rather than go with a Republican alternative.

After his big win Saturday, Romney appears to be in the driver’s seat to claim the GOP nomination. If the economy continues to improve, however, Romney will have to recalibrate his message, as his bid for the presidency this time around has been that he is best equipped to turn around the ailing economy.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday reveals that even with the sluggish recovery, the president still leads Romney in a hypothetical general election contest.

Mr. Obama holds a nine-point advantage over Romney, 52 percent to 43 percent, among all Americans. The president’s lead with registered voters, meanwhile, is six points, 51 percent to 45 percent.

Half of Americans approve of the president’s job performance, while 46 percent disapprove. Forty-nine percent of respondents said the president deserves re-election, with the same number saying he doesn’t.

The Post’s Dan Balz and Jon Cohen also examined the combative GOP nominating process and the impact it has had on views of the candidates:

Overall, 55 percent of those who are closely following the campaign say they disapprove of what the GOP candidates have been saying. By better than 2 to 1, Americans say the more they learn about Romney, the less they like him. Even among Republicans, as many offer negative as positive assessments of him on this question. Judgments about former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who denounced Romney on Saturday night in Nevada, are about 3 to 1 negative.

While Romney’s standing as the Republican front-runner remains on solid ground, his positioning in the general election could become more uncertain if Gingrich follows through on his vow to take the fight into the summer and if the economy continues to gain steam.

PROBING PAUL

Roll Call published an investigative report by Jonathan Strong about Paul’s congressional travel, suggesting the small-government crusader double-billed for flights home. From the piece, which leads the Monday paper:

Rep. Ron Paul appears to have been paid twice for flights between Washington, D.C., and his Congressional district, receiving reimbursement from taxpayers and also from a network of political and nonprofit organizations he controlled, according to public records and documents obtained by Roll Call.

Roll Call identified eight flights for which the Texas Republican, a GOP presidential candidate and leading champion of smaller government, was reimbursed twice for the same trip. Roll Call also found dozens more instances of duplicate payments for travel from 1999 to 2009, totaling thousands of dollars’ worth of excess payments, but the evidence in those cases is not as complete.

Strong writes that Roll Call identified “more than 25 flights, totaling about $15,000, for which the dates, costs, airline companies and flight paths closely match reimbursements made by the House and Paul’s other organizations.” One example: “[O]n March 24, 2003, Paul purchased a round-trip flight from Washington, D.C., to Houston for $651.50. Several weeks later, filings with the FEC show, the Committee to Re-Elect Ron Paul paid $651.50 for the Continental Airlines ticket. Congressional expenditure records show Paul also was reimbursed $651.50 by taxpayers for the same flight.”

David M. Halbfinger delivers the New York Times’ profile of Paul, a piece that looks at how the Texas congressman’s upbringing and family life shaped his libertarian world view.

Over the weekend Paul’s campaign team crafted a chart showing he receives more donations from active-duty military personnel than the other candidates. The campaign said he collected more than $150,000 in military donations in the fourth quarter.

NEWSHOUR NEWS

Judy Woodruff will interview Speaker of the House John Boehner on Monday night. Tune into the NewsHour.

What should Judy ask the speaker? Tweet @judywoodruff with suggestions.

Gwen Ifill (@pbsgwen) answers the five questions she posted earlier in the week.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS

Jobs figures released Friday were better than expected with the unemployment rate dropping to 8.3 percent, the lowest in three years.

The NewsHour’s report and analysis are here.

It’s good news for President Obama, but Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer offered a memo over the weekend looking at the “dangerous” numbers game when it comes to the unemployment rate. “High unemployment has become the new normal so we’re tempted to think that slightly-less-high unemployment is good,” he wrote. “We’re tempted to settle. It may get better, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. It doesn’t mean the economy has recovered.”

Spicer said the president must be judged on his record on the economy and adds that Republicans “must communicate to voters our dedication to fighting for hard-working taxpayers and for the unemployed.”

“Our message has to be about more than just lowering an unemployment number. It has to be about raising America’s spirit and reviving American opportunity,” Spicer wrote.

Piling on, Americans for Prosperity released a 60-second television spot Monday morning in honor of what would have been Ronald Reagan’s 101st birthday. The conservative group compares Reagan’s economic outlook to Mr. Obama’s. Watch the ad here.

The Democratic National Committee offered its own take in a web video targeting Romney. It suggests the front-runner has changed his tune on the president’s handling of the economy. Watch the video here.

Mark Shields and David Brooks dished on the jobs figures on Friday’s NewsHour. Shields called Romney “tone deaf” for his remarks about the “very poor” and offered his theory on the Republican front-runner: “Mitt Romney is now coming across as a guy who was born in a log cabin in Grosse Pointe, Mich., with silver earplugs. I mean, he doesn’t hear. I mean, it really is setting in. And I think Republicans you talk to are getting nervous that perhaps this guy just doesn’t haven’t the touch. I mean, it’s not a silver spoon. It is silver earplugs.”

Watch the segment, which also touched on the fight between the Catholic church and the Obama administration.

2012 LINE ITEMS

“I feel bad for him. I think he’s digressed into a state of taking a second-rate campaign and turning it into a first-rate vendetta. And I think he’s putting himself out of the game because he can’t get over his obsession about his own hurt feelings over the campaign in Iowa. He needs to get beyond that and to the nation’s people’s business if he expects to have any chance whatsoever. I thought that last night was really sad for him and, quite frankly, again so much of Newt’s whole life is overstated. He overstates the case in such a hyperbolic fashion and just looks vindictive.”

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Politico’s Jake Sherman and Manu Raju detail the internal GOP fight over extending the payroll tax cut.

  • The Atlantic posts a helpful chart on the status of those automatic budgets cuts triggered by the supercommittee’s summer failure.

  • Indiana’s Republican Secretary of State Charlie White was convicted Saturday on multiple charges in a voter fraud case. GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed an interim official to replace him.

  • Shields and Brooks talk football.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Rick Santorum delivers remarks on health care in Rochester, Minn., at 11 a.m., addresses the Colorado Election Energy Summit in Golden at 5 p.m. and holds a rally in Denver at 9:30 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich holds a rally in Denver at 1:30 p.m., addresses the Colorado Energy Summit in Golden at 4 p.m. and attends a rally in Bloomington, Minn., at 9 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney holds a pair of Colorado rallies: in Grand Junction at 2:20 p.m. and Centennial at 8:25 p.m.

  • Ron Paul campaigns in Minnesota, with a town hall in St. Cloud at 5 p.m. and a rally in Minneapolis at 9 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @quinnbowman.