Tomorrow’s Nevada caucuses may not hold much drama for Republicans in or out of the Silver State, according to the latest PPP poll of likely caucus-goers. The only suspense will come from seeing whether Mitt Romney can win a majority:
Mitt Romney is headed for a dominant victory in Nevada on Saturday. PPP finds him polling at 50% to 25% for Newt Gingrich, 15% for Ron Paul, and 8% for Rick Santorum.
Certainly in Nevada the Mormon vote will get a lot of attention and Romney leads Paul 78-14 with that group, which we project to account for 20% of the vote. But Romney’s dominance in Nevada goes well beyond that. He’s winning voters describing as ‘very conservative,’ a group he’s had huge amount of trouble with in other states, by a 43-34 margin over Gingrich. He’s also winning men, women, Hispanics, whites, and every age group that we track. This will be a pretty thorough victory for him.
Romney won Nevada by a wide margin in 2008, a cycle when he won caucuses but fell short in primaries. Nevadans still like him, and not just the Mormons, who make up about 20% of the voters:
Romney hits the 70% favorability mark in Nevada, something we’ve seen for him in very few states. Just 25% see him unfavorably. That’s partially due to an 89/8 standing with Mormons, but he’s at a still very strong 64/30 with non-Mormons as well. One thing that’s contributing to Romney’s strength in Nevada is a strong advantage on the electability question. 56% think he would be the strongest candidate against Barack Obama this fall with no one else topping 21%.
The same cannot be said for Newt Gingrich. Only Republicans can vote in the caucuses, and they had to have registered as such by January 20th to participate, but this doesn’t keep Gingrich from falling underwater on favorability. He gets a 41/49 for a -8 compared to Romney’s +45. Interestingly, Ron Paul is also underwater, 45/46, which is surprising in a state that had been a center of support for his campaign in 2008. Rick Santorum scores high on favorability at 64/23 for a +41, nearly the same as Romney, and it comes as no surprise that Santorum wins the second-choice question with 30%. Gingrich, Romney, and Paul all fall within a three-point range of 13-16% on being a second choice for Nevada voters.
Nevada will allocate delegates proportionally, so a 25% showing isn’t a disaster for Gingrich. He can pick up a handful of delegates and look for a state where he can make a headline with a targeted effort. However, Team Gingrich will have to do better than this if they expect to start making a dent in Romney’s momentum:
Newt Gingrich’s national advisers are feuding with his Nevada team over the candidate’s campaign here, sources said, highlighting the shortcomings of a hastily assembled local operation and toll of a long campaign.
Gingrich canceled a meeting with Gov. Brian Sandoval on Wednesday and has scaled back his schedule here, including nixing a rural tour, leading up to Saturday’s GOP caucuses.
It was the candidate’s national advisers who argued for Gingrich to skip the tour of Nevada’s heavily Republican rural counties, putting them at odds with in-state advisers, who wanted him to make more appearances, particularly outside Las Vegas.
“Their egos are out of control,” said a Nevada campaign adviser, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. “I’m not sure if they’ve ever looked at a map of the Nevada.”
February’s first two weeks is caucus-heavy, so it’s unclear how Gingrich plans to make an impact without doing the kind of rural tour that turns out caucus-goers. The only primary in that period is the non-binding one in Missouri, for which Gingrich didn’t qualify for the ballot. He may be putting all his February eggs in Arizona’s primary basket, but the latest Rasmussen poll shows him trailing Romney there by as much as he trails today in PPP’s poll in Nevada. If that’s the strategy and rural tours are out, then maybe Gingrich would be best served by camping out in Arizona for the next three weeks.
So how will Nevada’s caucus work? The Las Vegas Sun has a basic primer, but it’s the same as most other caucuses. The caucuses will start in the morning on a county-by-county basis, and it will comprise lots of other party business. During that time, qualified attendees can cast paper ballots for their presidential candidate, and at the end each caucus will count them up and communicate the results to the state GOP. Without traveling and holding events, it seems unlikely that Gingrich will have any surprises tonight, except perhaps unpleasant ones. Look for Paul to do better than the polling indicates.