RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. There was no 11th-hour surprise in the Nevada caucuses last night. The first state in the West to vote in the Republican presidential race chose Mitt Romney by a wide margin. NPR's Ari Shapiro has this recap from the night in Las Vegas.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Nevada has been Romney country since at least 2008. That year, he took about half the vote in the caucuses but lost the Republican nomination to John McCain. This year, he has his sights set higher.
MITT ROMNEY: You know, this is not the first time you gave me your vote of confidence, and this time I got to take it to the White House.
SHAPIRO: Romney took no chances with Nevada. He visited here more than any other Republican candidate. His message that President's Obama's economic policies have failed goes over well in a state that's at the heart of the housing bust and the unemployment crisis.
ROMNEY: 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.
SHAPIRO: It's a little trickier for Romney to make this argument now than it was just a few days ago. Friday's hiring numbers showed much higher than expected job growth. Unemployment is now the lowest it's been in three years, at 8.3 percent. Romney said President Obama cannot take credit for that.
ROMNEY: Mr. President, we welcome any good news on the jobs front, but it is thanks to the innovation of the American people and the private sector, and not to you, Mr. President.
SHAPIRO: At least in Nevada, the economy remains bad enough that Romney's argument resonates. Suzy Soleimani had to sell her house in Ohio at a loss when she moved here. Now, she faces the same situation trying to sell her current home.
SUZY SOLEIMANI: Now, it's half price, you know?
SHAPIRO: Do you mind telling me how much money you lost on the sale?
SOLEIMANI: About half a million and on this house probably more than a million.
SHAPIRO: Her family is from Iran, and she's also frustrated that President Obama has not done more to support protesters there.
SOLEIMANI: So, hopefully we will have a strong voice to rescue, to go to help these people that they are very helpless.
SHAPIRO: One more reason this state is so friendly to Romney: Nevada has a large Mormon population. About a quarter of Nevada's caucus goers yesterday were Mormon, and they almost all voted for Romney. Still, he was dominant across a broad swath of demographics. He even won among self-described Tea Party and conservative voters. For runner-up Newt Gingrich, that's a bad sign.
NEWT GINGRICH: The establishment has closed ranks and made quite clear that they're desperate over the prospect of a Gingrich presidency.
SHAPIRO: Gingrich didn't bother with a rally last night. He held a news conference at the Venetian Hotel. That casino's owner, Sheldon Adelson, has put millions of dollars behind Gingrich. The former House speaker said he is as determined as ever to stay in the race. And though he seemed visibly tired, he also gave no indication of letting up the attacks on Romney.
GINGRICH: The vast majority of Republicans across the country are going to want an alternative to a Massachusetts moderate who has in his career been pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase, and who ranked third from the bottom in creating jobs in the four years he was governor.
SHAPIRO: The last two candidates were not even in Nevada when results came in. Third-place finisher Ron Paul addressed college students at Bethel University.
REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL: It sounds like the revolution has already come to Minnesota.
SHAPIRO: And coming in a distant fourth was Rick Santorum, who skipped these caucuses to focus on next week's contests. In Greeley, Colorado, he argued that if Republicans nominate Romney or Gingrich...
RICK SANTORUM: Then we will not win this election. We will win this election if we have someone who goes out and paints bold contrasts, someone that America trusts to do what in our heart we know needs to be done.
SHAPIRO: Next up: caucuses on Tuesday in Colorado and Minnesota. Romney won both of those states in 2008. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Las Vegas.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.