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Romney wins big in Nevada; Gingrich vows to fight on

Mitt Romney cruised to a comfortable win over his GOP rivals in the Nevada caucuses Saturday. Following strong recent debate performances and his big win in Florida, that gives him momentum going into the next presidential nominating contests.

By Staff writer / February 5, 2012

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greets supporters at his Nevada caucus night rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, Saturday February 4, 2012. Romney won the Nevada contest by a wide margin.

Rick Wilking/Reuters

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In Nevada Saturday night, Mitt Romney won two big contests.

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One was the Republican caucuses, where he cruised to a comfortable double-digit lead over Newt Gingrich. The other was the expectations game – doing as well as the polls had predicted, and in some ways better.

Romney swept most categories of voter, showing particular strength among evangelical Christians, according to entrance polls taken as caucus-goers arrived for the speechifying and voting.

Entrance polls showed Romney won a wide cross-section of Nevada voters, capturing moderates, conservatives, tea party supporters. Perhaps most important, he won among those who said they were backing the man they thought had the best chance of beating Barack Obama – by a whopping 74-18 percent over Gingrich, reported CNN.

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For much of the evening, the more interesting race in fact was between Gingrich and Ron Paul for second place.

To be sure, Romney went into Nevada with a lot going for him: A state organization that’s been in place since he won the 2008 caucuses. Ninety percent support among the large Mormon population there, which makes up about a quarter of registered Republicans. And a campaign war chest (and an independent super Pac) that allowed him to run many more ads than his rivals, many of them negative.

As the evening wore on, several news sources reported that Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands hotel and casino, whose extended family has given $11 million to Gingrich’s super PAC, had quietly given the Romney camp assurances that he’d be backing the former Massachusetts governor if he wins the nomination.

In his victory speech Saturday night, Romney (who could be seen surrounded by Secret Service agents, a new feature as he wades into crowds) dwelt not on his GOP rivals but on Obama. In a state with the nation’s highest unemployment and home foreclosure rates, Romney hammered what he called “the failed leadership of one man” responsible for a US economy Republicans say should have been turned around long ago.

In a line sure to be repeated throughout his campaign, Romney said, “This president began his presidency by apologizing for America. He should now be apologizing to America.”

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