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06 Feb 2012 06:43
Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney coasted to victory in the latest of the party’s presidential nomination contests, the Nevada caucuses, but his main rival, Newt Gingrich, vowed he would not drop out.
Romney won about 48% of votes compared with 23% for Gingrich, 19% for Ron Paul and 11% for Rick Santorum, according to a near-complete tally early on Sunday. The former Massachusetts governor has now won three of the five opening contests.
But Gingrich sought to ruin Romney’s post-election celebrations, calling a press conference to deny he planned to quit and blaming exit rumours on the Romney camp.
“I am not going to withdraw,” he said.
Gingrich instead set out a strategy for a protracted campaign.
Underlining the extent of division and bitterness created by the contest, Gingrich again described Romney as “blatantly dishonest”, a line that Democrats will happily replay if Romney becomes the nominee to face Barack Obama for the White House in November.
Romney, in his victory speech in Las Vegas, was in a bullish mood, recalling that he had won Nevada in his failed bid for the Republican nomination in 2008. “This is not the first time you have given me your vote of confidence and this time I am going to take it all the way to the White House,” he said.
Gingrich, at a Las Vegas press conference, was defiant, predicting conservatives in the forthcoming contests would not vote for a pro-abortion, pro-gun control Massachusetts moderate.
“Our commitment is to seek to find a series of victories which by the end of the Texas primary will leave us about at parity with Governor Romney and from that point forward to see if we can’t actually win the nomination. We will continue to campaign all the way to Tampa,” he said.
Gingrich’s defiant tone came after a meeting with about 60 financial backers, including the billionaire casino and hotel owner Sheldon Adelson.
Gingrich described Nevada as a “very heavily Mormon state” in explaining his rival’s big win. A survey of caucus-goers showed about 25% were members of the religious group. In the 2008 nomination battle 95% of Mormons who took part in the caucuses voted for Romney.
Romney was helped too by having had full-time staff and volunteers working in the state for months. Gingrich and Santorum only began organising over the last few weeks.
The winner in the Republican race needs to secure 1 144 delegates to the party convention in August.
Nevada has 28 delegates, distributed among the candidates based on share of the vote. Although Romney takes the biggest share, Gingrich and Paul will receive a portion.
Ominously for Obama, for whom Nevada is a swing state in November, four out of 10 of those surveyed going into the caucuses said their priority was to force him from office. They also cited the economy as their primary concern.
Nevada is one of the most recession-hit states, with high unemployment and a collapsed housing market.
Although Romney has established himself as favourite, there is still a route available to Gingrich if he can take big states such as Ohio, Georgia and Texas in March and April and sweep up the remaining southern states.
Paul and Santorum did not stay in Nevada to watch the results. Paul spent the day campaigning in Minnesota; Santorum did the same in Colorado. Both states vote on Tuesday. The Maine caucuses have begun and are due to be completed on Saturday.
Romney spent the day campaigning in Colorado before returning to Nevada for his election night speech. He plans to take Sunday off, a sign of confidence about the forthcoming contests, and also recognition of the futility of trying to compete with the Super Bowl.
Although Santorum came in fourth he indicated he was not planning to quit soon, claiming to be hopeful of a decent result in Colorado and Minnesota.
Before Nevada, Romney had 87 delegates; followed by Gingrich with 26, Santorum with 14 and Paul with four.—
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