LAS VEGAS -- Mitt Romney continued his long slog toward the Republican nomination Saturday, claiming victory in the Nevada caucuses by a decisive margin.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, handily defeated Newt Gingrich, despite playing in the home state of Gingrich's chief financial backer, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The comparatively poor showing by Gingrich, the former House speaker, makes the seemingly inevitable Romney campaign appear that much more inevitable. For a campaign predicated on electability, such an appearance is essential.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum looked as though he would finish in the basement, as his thinly funded campaign mostly neglected to compete in Nevada, focusing instead on upcoming contests in Minnesota and Colorado. His ongoing presence in the race, however, continues to split the conservative base between him and Gingrich, with Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) picking up support from the libertarian and non-interventionist wing of the Republican Party.
Romney, now that he's through Nevada, may have a shot at some of Adelson's money. Michael Roberson, a top Republican member of the state senate, told HuffPost that Romney and Adelson are friends and that Adelson will shift support from Gingrich as soon as he drops out.
"I absolutely expect that as this thing goes on and it becomes clear the governor is going to be our nominee, Sheldon Adelson will be behind Romney in a big way," Roberson said. The New York Times reported Saturday that it was hearing the same thing.
Las Vegas is in a horrible economic state, leading the nation in unemployment and foreclosures, with water shortages threatening its long-term survival. At a rally on Friday, Romney noted the nearly 13 percent unemployment rate.
"Undoubtedly, everyone in Nevada knows someone who lost a house or lost a job," Quinton Singleton, a business attorney, told HuffPost at a Romney rally, explaining why the former governor's promise of an economic turnaround resonates here.
Other Romney supporters said that they were backing him because they thought he was most likely to beat President Obama. Stephanie Collinsworth, who works in the admissions office of a local college, called Gingrich "brilliant, intelligent," but added, "I do think he's not electable."
Steven, a local physician who didn't want to give his last name so as not to politicize his medical practice, said he's backing Romney because of his support for Israel. "As a Jew, I think he'd be a good supporter of Israel," he said, calling Obama's posture toward the region "horribly" disappointing.
"He's a business guy," Steven said. "He's got practical sense, something our president has none of."
Romney left Nevada early in the morning Saturday for Colorado, before returning in the evening to celebrate his victory.
Earlier exit polls showed Romney leading with a resounding majority.