LAS VEGAS — Republican presidential front runner Mitt Romney reached for his second straight victory Saturday in quiet Nevada caucuses, a contest that Newt Gingrich and the rest of his rivals conceded in advance.
Unlike contentious earlier events from Iowa to Florida, this one featured little television advertising, no debates and a small investment of time by Romney, Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
A total of 28 Republican National Convention delegates was at stake in caucuses held across a sprawling state that drew little attention in the nominating campaign, but figures to be a fierce battleground in the fall between the winner of the GOP nomination and President Barack Obama. The state's unemployment rate was measured at 12.6 percent in December, the worst in the country.
According to the AP count, Romney began the day with 87 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination. Gingrich had 26, Santorum 14 and Paul 4.
The caucus rules were a demonstration of democracy and a reflection of religious diversity.
Nevada awarded its delegates in proportion to the caucus vote totals, meaning that any candidate who captured at least 3.57 of the total number of ballots cast would be rewarded. By contrast, Romney's victory in the Florida primary on Tuesday netted him all 50 of the delegates at stake there.
While most caucuses were held during the day, an exception was made in Clark County, the state's largest. There, party officials arranged to hold one meeting well after sundown at the request of orthodox Jews who observe bans on driving, writing or other work-a-day activities during the Sabbath.
Romney's victory in the state's 2008 caucuses, coupled with the heavy presence of voters who share his Mormon faith, turned Nevada into something of a way-station on the campaign calendar.
There are just over 175,000 Mormons in the state, roughly 7 percent of the population. But they accounted for nearly a quarter of all 2008 Nevada GOP primary-goers.
Gingrich said he'd be happy to finish second, behind Romney and ahead of Paul, who was one of two candidates to air television ads in the state.
Romney was the other, joined by Restore Our Future, the ubiquitous organization that supports him and has been heavily involved in earlier states.
Santorum campaigned relatively little in Nevada, although he picked up the support of Sharron Angle, a tea party favorite who won the GOP Senate nomination in a 2010 upset and then lost her race to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
From Nevada, the calendar turns to caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a non-binding primary in Missouri on Tuesday.
Maine caucuses end next Saturday.
Nevada caucuses, coming four days after the Florida primary, meant little time for the type of intense campaign that characterized the first month of the race.
The most memorable event of the four-day Nevada campaign was an endorsement that flamboyant billionaire Donald Trump bestowed on Romney in Las Vegas in a circus-like atmosphere that followed reports he would back Gingrich. The campaign event was brief, and Paul mocked The Donald and his decision. "I don't think he has that much credibility. I don't understand why we pay attention to him," he said.
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