Republican front-runner Mitt Romney cruised to an easy victory in Nevada on Saturday, crushing his three remaining rivals and taking firm command of the party’s volatile presidential nominating race.
With support from a broad cross-section of Republicans, Romney won by a big double digit margin over former US House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich, US Representative Ron Paul and former US senator Rick Santorum.
The victory was Romney’s second in a row and his third in the first five contests in the state-by-state battle to find a Republican challenger to US President Barack Obama in November’s general election.
It propels Romney into the next contests — in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri tomorrow — on a growing wave of momentum.
Gingrich held a news conference after the results to head off speculation that he might put an early end to his campaign.
“I’m not going to withdraw,” Gingrich told reporters, repeating his frequent vow to continue all the way to the Republican nominating convention in Florida in August. “I’m actually pretty happy with where we are.”
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, took control of the Nevada contest early after recapturing his front-runner status with a convincing win over Gingrich in Florida on Tuesday.
He benefited from a huge financial and organizational edge in Nevada, which he won with 51 percent of the vote during his failed 2008 presidential bid. A faltering economy and a big bloc of Mormon voters made Nevada friendly terrain for Romney, a Mormon and former head of a private equity firm.
Romney stressed his business background as a cure for the state’s ailing economy, which suffers from the country’s highest unemployment rate, 12.6 percent in December, and the highest home foreclosure rate.
Entrance polls in Nevada showed that was a persuasive argument, with the economy ranking as the top issue and Romney winning nearly two-thirds of the voters who listed it as their biggest concern.
“America needs a president who can fix the economy because he understands the economy, and I do and I will,” Romney told cheering supporters at a Las Vegas casino hotel, aiming his criticism at Obama and ignoring his Republican rivals.
The entrance polls showed Romney won a broad swath of voters, including moderates, conservatives, men, women, the elderly, Tea Party supporters and those who believed the most important quality in a candidate was the ability to beat Obama.
Romney hopes Nevada will start a winning streak this month that could position him for a knockout blow to Gingrich during the 10 Super Tuesday contests on March 6 — or sooner.
In addition to tomorrow’s contests, Maine will wrap up its week-long caucuses on Saturday, while Arizona and Michigan hold their contests on Feb. 28.
Gingrich hopes to hang in the race until next month, when there will be contests in several southern states where the former Georgia representative believes he can do well. He said his goal was to pull even with Romney in delegates after the Texas contest in early April.