Support, Protest And Hiccups During The Nev. Caucus

Mitt Romney was the big winner in Saturday's Nevada caucus, leaving runner-up Newt Gingrich in the dust. Organizers said tens of thousands of people participated in the West's first presidential contest of the year, and some of them were still taking part late into the night. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

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Organizers said tens of thousands of people took part in the Colorado GOP caucuses, and some of them were still voting late into the night. NPR's Carrie Kahn dropped in on several caucus sites around the Silver State.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: At the Sun City Anthem retirement community in Henderson, Nevada, a few dozen volunteers were up early and getting the clubhouse ready for the caucuses.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Who is 1712?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Do we have 1712?

KAHN: There are a lot of precincts to set up in the rooms around the clubhouse, with its stunning views looking over the golf course and the Vegas strip. Gay Macdonald and her husband Chuck showed up around 7 A.M. to help. Both wore black slacks and white dress shirts like the rest of the volunteers. They moved here from Los Angeles, and Chuck says he loves it. He says there's about 7,100 homes in the retirement community and he says everyone is as conservative as he is.

CHUCK MACDONALD: This is great for me because California was overwhelmingly Democrat, and my original home where I grew up in New York City was overwhelmingly Democrat. At least here I can work and have a fighting chance to succeed.

KAHN: Nevada was supposed to be one of the first four states to weigh in on this year's Republican nomination, but Florida stole its place in line and its thunder. All four major candidates still in the race came to Nevada to campaign but not as much as locals had hoped for. Chuck Macdonald says he went for Gingrich. His wife Gay still hadn't made up her mind.

GAY MACDONALD: I like all of them. I...

KAHN: Wait. So, you're about ready to open the caucus site and you still don't know who you're going to vote for.

MACDONALD: Well, because I think Mitt Romney will win anyway, I'm going to do a protest vote for Santorum because he's the one who doesn't have any baggage.

KAHN: Within the hour, the place was packed. One precinct room was so full it had to move out into the lobby. Precinct Captain Ellen Brught struggled to be heard.

ELLEN BRUGHT: OK. Can everybody hear me right here? OK. First of all, I want to welcome all of you. So glad you all came. Very important election this year, and that's why you're here I'm sure.

KAHN: Party officials say they were happy with the turnout. Further upstate in South Reno, about 700 people packed into Galena High School. In one of the precincts, Nick Landis stood up and gave his best appeal for Ron Paul.

NICK LANDIS: I support Congressman Ron Paul for president because it gives me hope for America's future. He promotes maximum individual freedom in limited federal government. Exactly what the...

KAHN: The rules varied from county to county on how long you could make a speech and even when the caucus site opened. Clark County took the unusual step of opening one site after sundown to accommodate Seventh Day Adventists and Orthodox Jews who can't vote on the Sabbath.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING)

KAHN: By 6 o'clock last night, hundreds have lined up for the late caucus at the Adelson Education Center. This school is named after the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who, together with his family, has contributed more $11 million to a pro-Gingrich superPAC. Adelson insists he did not influence the decision to have a special site. Tina Drago says she's glad it was there or she wouldn't have been able to vote. She's an Orthodox Jew. But Drago said she felt back about all the people who couldn't vote in the morning just because of work.

TINA DRAGO: It's a 24-hour town, and Saturdays are a huge day. Now, that's what they should have thought about was that nothing is quiet on a Saturday.

KAHN: In fact, people showed up to vote at the site and said they were unable to caucus in the morning. Many were Ron Paul supporters. Several said they had received a phone call urging them to come out. But all participants found they had to sign a declaration that they were voting after sundown for religious reasons. Those who were admitted all signed and when all the votes were tallied, Ron Paul won the late caucus handily. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Las Vegas.

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