Nevada GOP Chair: It's Between Paul and Romney for Caucus Win

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Two Nevada polls have tapped Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich as the top two candidates in the state, but the Nevada Republican Party chair guesses the caucuses will come down to Romney and Ron Paul.

The most recent surveys could come as a surprise because Paul has campaigned heavily in the state -- where he finished second in the 2008 GOP presidential race -- while Gingrich hadn't open offices in Nevada until the past week.

Nevada's caucuses will be held Feb. 4.

"I hear a little bit more Mitt Romney chatter than Ron Paul, but the amount of tea party folks and libertarians that we have out here has just grown more and more," Amy Tarkanian said in an interview. "If I had to guess, it's going to be between one of those two, absolutely."

The polls -- from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Public Policy Polling -- showed Romney with a comfortable lead in Nevada as he grabbed some 45% favor among GOP voters and led Gingrich in the polls by about 15 to 20 percentage points.

Tarkanian also pointed out that Gingrich's ground game in Nevada seems to have been too little too late.

After the former House speaker won a shocking victory in South Carolina, his campaign rolled to Florida with the intention of sweeping the state's crucial 50 delegates. But Romney's enormous television- and radio-advertising push and his two exceptional debate performances led to Gingrich's undoing. The former Massachusetts governor crushed Gingrich by 14 percentage points.

Gingrich spent heavily in Florida, a move that seemed to peg the candidate's campaign life on its primary race. The decision left him dark in Nevada and most of the following primary states (Colorado, Maine, Missouri, Minnesota). With only four days for a full pivot from Florida to Nevada, Romney held a significant advantage against Gingrich, while Paul and Rick Santorum benefited from having skipped Florida to campaign early out west.

"We have a huge Ron Paul following out here, and a huge Mitt Romney following. ... Those two never left our state," Tarkanian said. "They are both organized like I've never seen, they have coalitions put together like I've never seen; Ron Paul even has a Latter-day Saint's Church coalition ... so not all the Mormon's are going to go to Mitt Romney."

Gingrich's campaign might have something to celebrate as one pollster seems to think he holds an insurmountable second-place standing against Paul.

"The chances of Paul besting Gingrich for third are pretty minuscule," pollster Tom Jensen told the Las Vegas Sun.

Maybe so, but Nevada is a caucus state, which means that the objective of campaigns will be to motivate their supporters to attend the extended process.

"Well, bottom line is it all depends who actually gets their people to the caucus. Gingrich and Santorum have no organization here to speak, while Romney and Paul have been active in this state since last year," Jim Denton, a Nevada Republican political consultant, said Thursday morning in an email.

There doesn't seem to be much question whether Romney will win Nevada, but his opponents will be eager to determine the former governor's overall strength based on whether he can match the 51% of the vote he grabbed in the 2008 Nevada caucus contest.

As for Gingrich's second-place standing, it's a matter of whether he can motivate those Republicans polled who plan to caucus to outnumber the eager masses of Paul supporters who supposedly lurk throughout Nevada's 17 counties hoping to topple Romney.

"To be with Romney and Paul, they're both very electrifying and exciting to go and participate with, because the number of folks that support both of them -- they're almost like rock stars out here," Tarkanian said.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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