DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene in for Scott Simon. It is caucus day in Nevada, the first state in the West to vote in the Republican presidential primary. Mitt Romney is counting on another win to keep him on the path to the nomination. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have also been campaigning across the state, while Rick Santorum is in the Midwest looking ahead to some later contests next week. Here's NPR's Ari Shapiro with his roundup.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Unemployment, home foreclosures, bankruptcy. Believe it or not, Nevada leads the country in all three. But at Romney's rally in Elko yesterday, the stories were vastly different. Jim Moore works for the Federal Aviation Administration.
JIM MOORE: My wife sells real estate, and they're having a hard time finding houses for people.
SHAPIRO: That's right. In Elko there are not enough houses for everyone who wants to buy. Elko is a gold-mining boom town. Michael Cornell works underground in the mines.
MICHAEL CORNELL: We've been relatively untouched. I make six figures a year, and many of us here do. We've had a lot of people come from other parts of the country to live here because of the jobs situation.
SHAPIRO: That's really different from a lot of Nevada.
CORNELL: It is. You know, I hear that there's some sort of unemployment rate problem here in Nevada, and we don't see any of it here.
SHAPIRO: Romney took the stage, and a woman in the audience shouted, where's your cowboy hat? His visit coincides with the Cowboy Poetry Festival. And while he had no hat, he had some words to offer.
MITT ROMNEY: The heart of the cowboy, the love of freedom and the outdoors and nature being celebrated this week with cowboy poetry. Congratulations to you that have come to listen to some wise words from some very humorous and bright people.
SHAPIRO: A week ago in Florida, Romney was hammering Newt Gingrich incessantly. But ever since his decisive win in that state, he has kept his sights trained solely on President Obama.
ROMNEY: We have a president who is convinced that government is the answer to every challenge we have. Government has an important role, but it's not the answer.
SHAPIRO: Romney has been very popular in Nevada, dating back to when he won the state caucuses four years ago. Still, he encounters the same challenges here that he does across the country. Ashley Leahy came to this rally to see what Romney had to say, but she says she just doesn't like him very much.
ASHLEY LEAHY: I think that he can come across as very abrupt and pompous-like, and very defensive.
SHAPIRO: She's planning to vote for Paul, a man who expects to climb in the standings today in a state where loyal support makes a difference. Paul was out in Las Vegas yesterday, thanking some of those supporters at a Gun Owners for Paul event. Later, he addressed a group of veterans.
RON PAUL: National defense is the responsibility of the federal government, and unfortunately I think we spend too much money overseas doing the wrong thing, which actually undermines our national defense.
SHAPIRO: Paul took second place in the Nevada caucuses last time. And then there's Newt Gingrich, whose goal here is to knock Romney off the pedestal of inevitability.
NEWT GINGRICH: It isn't good enough for the Republican Party to nominate Obama-lite.
SHAPIRO: Gingrich rallied voters at a country western restaurant in Las Vegas, returning to Romney's statement earlier this week that he doesn't care about the very poor. Romney has said he misspoke and meant to say that his focus is on helping the middle class. Gingrich called the gaffe evidence that Romney's not ready for prime time.
GINGRICH: The elite media did exactly what Obama will do this fall and kept replaying I don't really care about the poor, which by the way is not a very clever thing for somebody who's very wealthy to say.
SHAPIRO: The fourth candidate in the race, Rick Santorum, is not in Nevada. He spent Friday in Missouri battling a cold during a joint appearance with the evangelical leader James Dobson.
JAMES DOBSON: Rick, you gonna be OK? I mean, you...
RICK SANTORUM: I feel great.
DOBSON: Are you going to hold up and continue this? Are you in for the long haul?
SANTORUM: I - look, people have - a lot of people have come up to me and said, you know, please stay in the race. I'm not getting out of the race. I mean, this...
SHAPIRO: But having opted out of the Nevada contest early, however, Santorum is not likely to be a factor in the results that come in late tonight. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Las Vegas.
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