A new poll shows Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney headed for a blowout victory Saturday in Nevada's GOP caucuses.
Romney wins support from 45 percent of Nevada Republicans who said they plan to participate in the caucuses, the survey commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8NewsNow said.
Newt Gingrich is Romney's closest threat with 25 percent backing, thanks in large part to Republicans who say they "strongly support" the tea party movement.
Rick Santorum edges out Ron Paul, 11 percent to 9 percent, although the Texas congressman often outperforms polls by turning out his loyal backers in caucus contests, where party members pick their favorites. Paul is deeply organized here. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, is not well-known in Nevada and only recently hired staff and opened an office to compete here.
Mitt Romney’s growing popularity in Nevada is partly because Mormons overwhelmingly favor his candidacy. Though members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints only make up 8 percent of the state’s total population, one-quarter of those who cast ballots in the 2008 presidential primary were Mormon. And, according to the survey, 85.5 percent this year plan to caucus for the former governor. In sum, Mormons in the Silver State are deeply political and their support this weekend will ultimately shape the outcome. Romney, on the other hand, is also leading his Republican rivals among all other religious groups, including Catholics, Protestants and other Christian denominations.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Tea Party vote is somewhat divided between the top two candidates. Among those who “strongly support” the Tea Party movement, 37 percent favor Newt Gingrich compared to only 27 percent who prefer Mitt Romney. What’s more, more than 50 percent of likely voters who “somewhat” support the Tea Party movement or support it “only a little” favor the frontrunner. In short, these numbers suggest Mitt Romney – perhaps for the first time – is consolidating Tea Party support behind him.
But there are other factors that will influence Saturday’s primary as well. Team Paul, for example, is well organized in Nevada and cautiously believes the Texas Congressman will emerge victorious.
The Paul campaign sounded just as confident, saying the congressman could win Nevada, especially if turnout is 60,000 or below. In 2008, a total of 44,000 Republicans caucused, with Romney winning 22,649 and Paul picking up 6,087. Both have gained many more supporters since.
"If turnout is higher than 65,000 to 70,000, then more Romney people and more supporters of other candidates are coming up, then we might have some trouble," said Carl Bunce, the Nevada chairman of the Paul campaign. "But we have the numbers to win. We just have to turn them out."
Bunce dismissed the poll results, saying most Paul supporter refuse to participate or lie in surveys because of a bad experience in Nevada four years ago. He said Sen. John McCain's campaign did robocalls to identify Paul supporters and then sidelined them at the state party convention. McCain won the GOP nomination, but the state GOP convention was shut down before delegates could be counted and after Paul supporters tried to take over the meeting from the floor.
"A lot of the political activists don't answer those polls, or answer falsely," Bunce said. "I'm always skeptical of polls."
Indeed, while these numbers certainly provide a window into what Saturday’s outcome might be like, anything can happen in 48 hours.