Romney takes Nevada, voters bank on his business experience

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LAS VEGAS — About half the homes on the street where Jim and Deanna Daniels live are in foreclosure, the reason the couple have a Mitt Romney for president sign in their front yard.

Nevada's troubled economy was a key factor in the state's GOP caucus vote Saturday, Romney's second win in less than a week in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

"In the state of Nevada, we need to have jobs. … We need to get our people back to work. We need to get the foreclosures to stop," Deanna Daniels said. "It's sad to see our neighbors lose their jobs."

Many who lost their tile-roof stucco homes on Swaying Trees Drive were in the construction industry, she said, hard-hit in the economic downturn that left Nevada with one of the nation's highest unemployment rates.

An employee of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deanna Daniels said her own job changed from managing new construction projects to maintaining the church's current facilities.

Jim Daniels, who works at the front desk of a hotel and casino, said he supports Romney because of his business experience, including his leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"In my book, it didn't hurt he was LDS," Jim Daniels said.


The couple were among the Mormon voters who helped hand Romney an easy victory over former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

After a big win in Florida's primary last Tuesday, Romney is being seen as the front-runner in the race to face the Democratic candidate, President Barack Obama, in November.

Stacy Slade, also a member of the LDS Church, said he voted for Romney "because of his experience being able to do what our country needs — get rid of all the slop, the excess and make the system work better, cleaner and more efficient."

Slade said after spending 30 years as a general contractor and developer in his hometown, his career "was done, history" thanks to the bad economy. Now, at 55, he's going back to school to train to become a physician's assistant.

Nevada Caucus results

Rick Santorum 13%
Ron Paul 18%
Newt Gingrich 26%
Mitt Romney 42%

Todd Brunson, a volunteer at the Spring Valley High School caucus site, said he voted for Paul. "Everyone else is almost basically the same, and they're not going to do drastic things to fix the problems we have."

Brunson said is concerned Romney's Mormon faith would hurt Republicans' chances of retaking the White House.

"A lot of people hold his religion against him," Brunson said. "I think that's unfortunate, but I think it's true. It will make it difficult for him to get elected."

Carol Calder, a retired defense subcontractor, said she voted for Gingrich. "He's the smartest of the group we have to pick from," she said. "He's a little prickly, and I think that is important when you go up against Obama."

Calder said she believes Romney "could do the job, but I just don't see any passion there. No passion at all. I'm not even sure he believes what he says. It's just kind of like pablum to me. I want somebody with a little fire, and you get that with Gringrich."

Romney showed some of that fire in Florida, where he went on the offensive against Gingrich after a disappointing second-place finish in South Carolina. But in Nevada, Romney focused solely on Obama.

"Mr. President, Nevada has had enough of your kind of help," Romney told a rambunctious crowd gathered in a casino ballroom to celebrate his victory, promising to take Nevadans' vote of confidence "to the White House."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who accompanied Romney on a campaign stop to Colorado earlier Saturday, said the win demonstrates the campaign's strength — period.

A lot of people hold his religion against him. I think that's unfortunate, but I think it's true. It will make it difficult for him to get elected.

–- Todd Brunson

"I hear a lot of excuses and whining," Chaffetz said, when asked if the strong LDS turnout for Romney all but guaranteed a victory. "To roll out west and do so well is nothing but a credit."

Mormons, the congressman said, make up only 7 percent of the population in Nevada and some are Democrats, like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his supporters.

But Chaffetz said Mormons could play a key role in the general election, helping Romney shift Nevada back to the Republicans. The Silver State went for Obama in 2008.

"This is considered one of the key battleground states," Chaffetz said. "The fact that (Romney) can build a strong organization with strong turnout is a positive."

Matthew Wilson, a professor who specializes in religion and politics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Nevada was Romney's to lose.

"Nevada has been conceded to Romney from Day One by pundits and the other candidates," Wilson said. Mormons made up about one-fourth of the GOP caucus participants, according to polls, a percentage similar to 2008.

Wilson said that while some may try to downplay Romney's win in Nevada, it does help cement his status as a front-runner, especially coming just days after Florida's primary victory.

"I don't think he has a lot left to prove in terms of winning the Republican nomination," Wilson said. "The aura of inevitability will carry him forward."

Image: Associated Press


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