Mitt Romney’s decisive victory in Nevada was never much in doubt. He won the state’s caucuses four years ago, kept his organization active and he could count on support from fellow Mormons who made up a quarter of caucus-goers this year.
However, the former Massachusetts governor’s Nevada win, coupled with his enormous Florida victory just days ago, proved Republicans have begun to coalesce around his candidacy in earnest. He swept nearly every voting group in Nevada, including those that have been slow to come aboard, such as Tea Party activists and voters who describe themselves as extremely conservative.
And that spells trouble for his remaining rivals who now face a stark question: How do they stop him? It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the other remaining candidates — Newt Gingrich, Representative Ron Paul and Rick Santorum — to break through. All trail Romney in money, momentum and organization in upcoming states. And with a calendar of primaries and caucuses favorable to Romney just ahead, no one else has a clear path to the nomination.
“February is really the death march for second and third-tier candidates,” Republican strategist Rich Galen said. “If Romney sweeps February, the arc of his effort will be so strong, for most Republicans it will be over.”
A handful of states hold caucuses this week, including Maine, Minnesota and Colorado. Then comes a three-week lull until primaries on Feb. 28 in Arizona and Michigan, where Romney grew up and where his father served as governor.
Romney’s confidence was clear as he stepped before cameras to claim his Nevada win, focusing on US President Barack Obama.
“I’ve walked in Nevada neighborhoods, blighted by abandoned homes, where people wonder why Barack Obama failed them. Mr President, Nevada has had enough of your kind of help,” Romney said to cheers.
He barely acknowledged his Republican rivals, Gingrich included.
The former House of Representatives speaker’s hope for a serious head-to-head contest with Romney diminishes with each loss.
Gingrich is short on cash and Southern states likely to be most receptive to his candidacy do not hold contests again until Super Tuesday, March 6. Gingrich’s one victory so far came in South Carolina’s primary on Jan. 21.
Restore Our Future, the deep-pocketed super political action committee backing Romney, continues to pummel Gingrich with television ads attacking his record in Washington. The group has purchased advertising time in Minnesota, Michigan and Arizona.
The candidates will debate just once this month, in Mesa, Arizona, on Feb. 22. That hurts Gingrich, who has seen his political fortunes rise and fall on the strength of his debate performances.
Nevertheless, Gingrich brushed aside all talk of quitting the race, saying he was working to “find a series of victories which by the end of the Texas primary will leave us at parity” with Romney by early April.
He said he and his aides have spent much of the past four days retooling a campaign that twice has made him a leader in the polls, yet left him with only one victory in five states.
Gingrich may be able to hang on if casino mogul Sheldon Adelson makes another large contribution to Winning Our Future, a super political action committee supporting the former House speaker. Adelson and his family have contributed US$11 million to the group so far. However, even that won’t make Gingrich’s path to the nomination any more plausible.