U.S. presidential contender Mitt Romney decisively won Republican Party caucuses in the western state of Nevada Saturday, confirming his lead in the race to choose his party's nominee for the presidential election in November.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich placed second in the Nevada race, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul came in third. The former senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum trailed the group.
Nevada's Republican preference vote is the first in the western United States, and takes place in a state that is likely to be a key battleground in November.
As the votes were counted in caucuses around the state, Romney cruised to victory in the Nevada contest, helped in part by an estimated one-in-four Republican caucus voters who share his Mormon faith. Network polls show that more than 90 percent of Mormon caucus voters supported Romney.
Romney's win follows his decisive victory in Florida Tuesday, and was his third in the presidential party preference votes.
Polls indicate the economy was the major concern among caucus-goers. In his victory speech to supporters, Romney noted that Nevada has the nation's highest rate of unemployment and home foreclosures, and that President Barack Obama had promised to help.
Romney said, “I've walked in Nevada neighborhoods blighted by abandoned homes where people wonder why Barack Obama failed them. Well Mr. President, Nevada has had enough of your kind of help.”
Caucus voter Michael Dugan supported Romney because of the candidate's business experience. He said, "We need somebody who has done something in the private sector and knows how to get things done. More importantly knows how to bring people together, not tear them apart."
Caucus voter John Ryan is less enthusiastic, but believes Romney would make an acceptable president. "I voted for Mitt Romney. My opinion he was the least worst choice. I just don't see Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul as presidential material," said Ryan.
Candidate Newt Gingrich called a news conference late Saturday, saying he wanted to quell rumors that he plans to quit the race. Gingrich promises to keep campaigning until the Republican nominating convention in Tampa, Florida, in late August.
The forner House speaker said, “I am a candidate for President of the United States. I will be a candidate for President of the United States. We will go to Tampa.”
Gingrich says he could catch up with frontrunner Romney by April.
Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, who finished third and fourth in the Nevada contest, concentrated their efforts Saturday on Minnesota and Colorado, which have Republican caucuses, and Missouri, which has a non-binding Republican primary election, all on Tuesday.