To no one's surprise, Mitt Romney racked up a huge win in Nevada tonight.
He was helped by the make-up of the electorate and the fact that his opponents essentially ceded the state to him. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul didn't even campaign in the state today, choosing to spend their time and attention on the upcoming caucus states of Colorado and Minnesota.
And, even though Nevada is home to Sheldon Adelson, the financial muscle behind the pro-Newt Gingrich SuperPAC "Winning Our Future," the group only spent about $50,000 here - on radio and Internet advertising.
Other examples of why Nevada differed from the four previous contests in South Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire and Iowa:
- Mormons outnumbered evangelical voters: 26 percent of the Nevada caucus-goers were Mormon compared to just 23 percent who said they were evangelical Christians. Only New Hampshire had a lower-percentage of evangelical voters, at 22 percent. Even so, Romney carried evangelicals here with 48 percent - the best he's done in any state thus far.
- Very low turn-out: With Romney all but assured a win here, Nevada GOPers weren't exactly inspired to get out to vote. In 2008, just 45,000 Republicans caucused. This year, it looks like even fewer will vote. Given the dismal showing, it's going to be very hard for Nevada to justify its early state status in 2016. As the New York Time's @natesilver tweeted: "new rule: if you don't turn enough people out to fill state's largest football stadium, you lose early voting status."
- Race decided in December: Unlike many of these other early contests where momentum played a role in determining the winner, voters in Nevada were all but immune to the ups and downs on this campaign season. And, that was good news for Romney. A whopping 57 percent of Nevada voters said that they had decided for whom they were voting in 2011. Of those, 57 percent said they voted for Romney.
That said, a win is a win. Romney carried every demographic group, including strong tea party supporters and very conservative voters. More importantly, it denies Gingrich the momentum he's been so desperate to capture since his big South Carolina win.