With a huge lead in polls, US Republican front-runner Mitt Romney yesterday appeared poised for an easy win in Nevada, which would put him in firm command of the party’s see-sawing presidential nominating race.
A Nevada victory would be Romney’s second win 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, fueling a growing sense of momentum for the former Massachusetts governor.
“Go out and caucus tomorrow. Get out there,” Romney pleaded with supporters at his final Nevada campaign stop on Friday night, in a parking lot outside a pizza restaurant in Henderson, Nevada, near Las Vegas.
Two polls taken this week in Nevada showed Romney with a lead of 20 points or more over top rival Newt Gingrich after Romney recaptured his front-runner status with a convincing win in Florida on Tuesday.
Nevada, which has a faltering economy and a big Mormon population, is friendly territory for Romney, a Mormon and former head of a private equity firm. He captured 51 percent of the vote in 2008 to win the state during his failed 2008 presidential bid.
Romney has touted his business background as a cure for the ailing economy in Nevada, which has the highest state unemployment rate, 12.6 percent in December, and the highest home foreclosure rate.
“This has been a tough three years,” Romney said in Henderson, focusing his attacks on Obama. “It’s time now for Barack Obama to get out of the way.”
Romney hopes Nevada’s caucuses will launch 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 even sooner.
Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri will have nominating contests on Tuesday. Maine will wrap up its weeklong caucuses next Saturday, and Arizona and Michigan hold Feb. 28 contests.
Romney won Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Maine and Michigan during his failed 2008 presidential bid. He came in second in Arizona to native son and eventual nominee John McCain, an Arizona senator, and finished third in Missouri.
Gingrich is hoping to hang in the race until next month, when there will be contests in several southern states where the former Georgia congressman and US House speaker believes he can do well.
At a campaign stop in Las Vegas on Friday he called himself “the candidate of people power versus money power,” returning to his theme that Romney is a flawed product of the elite and a Wall Street favorite.
However, some Romney supporters say they are not turned off by his vast wealth even though Gingrich has made it a campaign issue.
“To me, that’s a good thing,” Kim Kahn, an instructional assistant at a Henderson elementary school, said of Romney’s millions. “It takes a lot to earn what he did.”
Bart Hatfield, a general contractor in Henderson, said he would back Romney because “he’s a businessman. That’s what we need in Washington.”
The two other candidates in the Republican race, US Representative Ron Paul and former US Senator Rick Santorum, have also pledged to keep fighting beyond Nevada. Santorum was to campaign in Colorado yesterday, and Paul was to visit Minnesota.
With a view to the next round, Romney was to visit Colorado yesterday before returning to Las Vegas for what he hoped would be a victory party that evening.