Mitt Romney Wins Big in Nevada Caucus, Newt Gingrich Second; Could Ron Paul Be a VP? Could Rick Santorum Quit?

Mitt Romney won big in the Nevada caucus on Saturday, giving the former Massachusetts governor his second straight election victory this week.

Newt Gingrich – Romney’s closest national challenger — came in second, followed closely by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), while Rick Santorum trailed in last place.

Romney won with 43% of the vote. Gingrich notched 25%, Paul pulled in 19%, and Santorum had 12%.

The caucus win provides Romney with more momentum and further cements him as the GOP presidential front-runner. After a dominant win in the Florida primaries on Tuesday, Romney is distancing himself from the rest of the GOP pack and looks set to be the eventual Republican presidential candidate, barring any slip-ups of course.

It seems that all Gingrich can do now is tread water until Super Tuesday on March 6, when again Southern states where Gingrich polls favorably will be up for grabs. Santorum looks like he is running on fumes, with no chance to make a significant surge in the race.

Paul has set his sights on winning delegates from smaller states like Maine and Minnesota, but it seems increasingly clear that the Texas congressman won’t be a true challenger to Romney. Instead, it may be looking like Paul is positioning himself to join the Romney camp, possibly as Romney’s running mate.

Still, though Romney is sprinting ahead of the other three candidates, no man has yet said he is considering dropping out of the race. As such, we can expect the circus to go on for a couple more weeks.

According to entrance polls, 22% of Nevada caucus-goers said they had already decided on who they would vote for in January, while a whopping 57% said they knew who they would vote for earlier than that. In layman’s terms, we’ve known for a while that Romney would win this contest.

Romney, too, seemed confident he’d win. The full-force ad assault that helped Romney win Florida wasn’t utilized in Nevada. After spending $15.3 million in the Florida primary, Romney’s campaign spent just $249,220 since January 27 in Nevada, while his “Restore Our Future” super PAC spent only $73,240.

Paul has spent the most money on ads in Nevada since January 1 with $869,650 compared to Romney's $488,460. Gingrich and his super PACs have spent no money in the state since the first of the year.

Most Nevada caucus-goers believed that beating President Barack Obama mattered most in their voting decision, with 44% saying electability was most critical. Romney is clearly standing out in voters’ minds as the man who can beat Obama.

Only 17% said that being a true conservative mattered most.

Romney touted economic issues in Nevada, a state that still has 12.6% unemployment rate. Romney in particular went after the economic policies of Obama.

"The policies of this administration have not been helpful. They, in fact, have been harmful. They have slowed down the recovery, made it more difficult," Romney said in Reno Friday. "The president deserves the blame that he'll receive in this campaign."

Romney's economic focus comes as federal reports on Friday noted that job creation soared in January and the national unemployment rate dropped to 8.3%. Still, these numbers may be deceiving, as it was also reported that a record 1.2 million people completely fell out of the labor force. Over the past month, those not in the labor force surged from 86.7 million to 87.9 million. We should expect the wider 2012 election to focus significantly on economic issues.

Though Paul has a significant support base in Nevada and was hoping to notch a strong second place finish in the caucus, the Texas congressman campaigned outside of the state, focusing his efforts instead on Minnesota, where on Tuesday caucuses will be held in conjunction with caucuses in Colorado and Missouri.

Paul spoke at a crowded, standing-room only high school auditorium, touting his libertarian ideals.

"There is reason to be optimistic that now the people are thinking correctly....We don't need more government," Paul said.

Paul could prove to be a trump card for Romney down the line.

It has been speculated that Paul and Romney may be seeking a strategic alliance, possibly one that could see Paul join the Romney camp as a running mate or high-level policy adviser if Romney were to become the eventual Republican presidential candidate. Though this GOP primary campaign has been hotly contested, with candidates Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum constantly at each other’s throats, the Paul-Romney relationship has remained friendly. Paul rarely lashes out against Romney, and some believe Romney sees opportunity in bringing Paul and his wide base of fanatic supporters into his fold if he were to win the nomination.

Romney-Paul 2012, anyone?    

Photo Credit: Chase Mcalpine