GOP front-runner Mitt Romney coasted to victory in the Nevada caucuses with all the suspense of a casino card dealer taking on a group of tourists from the Midwest in a hand of five-card stud.
“I think it’s obviously good news for Romney, but it has already been factored into the equation,” observed political analyst and Democratic pollster Doug Schoen in an exclusive interview with Newsmax Saturday night. “It is more a ratification of something that was expected than any fundamental change in the race.”
GOP strategist and Fox News contributor Bradley A. Blakeman tells Newsmax that the Nevada vote was significant in terms of helping the former Massachusetts governor overcome questions about whether he is conservative enough to carry the GOP torch into the general election.
“This myth that Romney is somehow not attractive to conservative voters is falling now state by state,” Blakeman said. “I think what’s happening here is that people are warming to Romney. They’re coming around.”
Romney’s victory, nevertheless, must be tempered by the fact that his chief rival — former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — barely threw the dice in Nevada, running no television spots and making few public appearances there.
Still Gingrich appears to have managed a second-place finish over Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who along with his Super PAC, spent $158,950 in Nevada on television ads, according to CNN.
Romney spent $488,460, while former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also spent no money in Nevada, the network reported.
Blakeman, a Newsmax contributor, said Romney benefitted from a high voter turnout by fellow members of his Mormon faith in Nevada where as many as one out of every four voters hailed from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
While Mormons account for only 7 percent of Nevada’s overall population, they made up one-quarter of GOP caucus-goers in 2008.
Both Schoen and Blakeman agree that Nevada and the remaining February contests leading up to the all-important Super Tuesday on March 6 are merely political warm-ups for the four remaining candidates in the GOP race for the White House.
“They’re all still viable until Super Tuesday. And if on Super Tuesday Romney has the kind of night he had tonight — or the victory he had in Florida — then everyone will have to reassess,” Schoen said. “The whole ball game is Super Tuesday.”
Blakeman said he believes that there is already no clear path to the nomination for Santorum or Paul.
“Ron Paul has pretty much admitted that he is neither selectable or electable,” insisted Blakeman. “He is in it for principle. Santorum has no pathway to victory.”
While Gingrich remains viable through Super Tuesday, he too may want to reassess his campaign if he fails to win any additional contests by the Wednesday after Super Tuesday, according to Blakeman.
“Gingrich has to reorganize. He needs a win before Super Tuesday and he needs to show there’s something there,” said Blakeman. “Is he viable beyond the debate? When there’s no debate, what has he got? He’s hanging his political fortune on debates.”
Blakeman questioned Gingrich’s decision to bypass Nevada, where Romney had a substantial advantage; he won with 51 percent of the vote there in 2008.
“If Gingrich had the organization and the fundraising, there’s no reason why he couldn’t have been competitive in Nevada, but he pretty much dismissed it and went through the motions,” said Blakeman.
Schoen predicted Romney’s victory in Nevada would be overshadowed by an anticipated bump in Obama’s popularity based on more favorable jobs numbers released on Friday.
“Romney’s substantial victory in Nevada shouldn’t obscure the fact that given the jobs numbers and [Obama's] successful appearances on the stump reiterating the theme of the State of the Union, that the big winner this week was not the former Massachusetts governor but president Barack Obama,” Schoen said.
He added that much of the Republican electorate still appears to be clamoring for an alternative to Romney.
“Romney continues to benefit by the fact that the Anyone-But-Romney constituency is divided between Paul, Santorum and Gingrich,” explained Schoen. “Traditional Republicans seem to be coalescing around Romney,. Not in huge numbers, but ... in big enough numbers to give him — as you had tonight — a convincing victory.”
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