Monday, Feb. 6, 2012 | 4:50 a.m.
Nearly two days after the caucuses closed, final results show how decisively Mitt Romney won Nevada: By 50.1 percent -- not quite as strongly as he did in 2008, but enough to give him his strongest first-place finish yet.
But the caucus-count fiasco that engulfed the Clark County GOP for the 36 hours after the caucuses ended, putting Nevada’s largest county on an embarrassing national stage, wasn’t about first place; it was a hard-fought, close contest for who could score a distant second.
Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were never within striking distance of winning the Nevada caucuses, which seem to have solidified Romney’s place as the frontrunner in this race.
But as Gingrich and Paul seek to keep their presidential campaigns afloat, each is in a mad dash for delegates -- and momentum.
Paul’s army of loyal followers carried him to a second-place finish in the 2008 caucuses -- and actually did better this time around.
A statewide unofficial count showed that 6,179 voters turned up to caucus for Paul, giving him 18.8 percent of the 2012 caucus vote, as opposed to about 14 percent in 2008.
Paul had the better ground game -- and the better turnout in Clark County.
But Gingrich had the bigger backers, more media, and in the end, more votes.
Across Nevada, 6,958 voters -- 779 more than Paul’s headcount -- turned out for Gingrich, giving him 21.1 percent, a second-place finish, and the power to walk out of the Silver State with his campaign somewhat intact.
A Gingrich upset of Romney would have been a long-shot even if the former Speaker of the House had not lost his momentum after winning South Carolina: Nevada, as Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki put it Saturday night, has been Romney country for a long time.
Romney has the most extensive ground operation in the state, as well as a loyal following he’s built up over the years, both in the Mormon community and in the Republican party. Romney has returned to Nevada on many occasions since 2008 to campaign for various elected representatives.
Santorum came in last place with 10 percent of the vote.
The numbers are the result of a two-day counting process that became necessary when discrepancies surfaced in the vote totals: More ballots had been cast, it appeared, than there were signatures of people who had showed up to cast a vote.
The campaigns accepted most of those unaccounted errors as the result of human foibles, confusion, and disorganization at certain caucus sites and in certain precincts. No foul play was alleged, though tensions were high throughout the counting process. Representatives for the Ron Paul campaign even threatened lawsuits multiple times -- though by Sunday afternoon, representatives of all the campaigns seemed to be working in relative harmony to work through the most contentious sites.
Clark County GOP officials congratulated themselves Sunday night on a job accurately, if not efficiently, done.
But the lasting legacy of this caucus is more one of embarrassment than accomplishment. Not only was Nevada -- which is angling for more national prominence in future Republican presidential nominating process -- bumbling through its election audition on as the country watched; the state could also barely turn out enough Republicans to make it seem like anyone here really cared what happened.
The total statewide turnout, according to the unofficial tally, was 32,930. That’s less than half of the 70,000 that now-past Nevada State GOP chairwoman Amy Tarkanian initially predicted would come out to caucus, and several thousand less than even the reduced projections of 40,000 that the Republican party presumed would turn out in the days before the Saturday causes took place.
It’s not a huge vote of confidence for a party who’s disorganization is now no longer a subject for in-state discussion, but has been trotted out on a national stage.
But officials are refusing to worry about potential fallout just yet.
“Our job was to accomplish a caucus and provide an accurate vote count,” said Clark County GOP chairman David Gibbs. “We did that.”