Elko, Nev. - The latest polling data from the Las Vegas Review Journal is as follows:
- Mitt Romney 45%
- Newt Gingrich 25%
- Rick Santorum 11%
- Ron Paul 9%
- Undecided 9%
This is a huge jump for Romney. The last poll in late December had him in first but with a much smaller lead over Gingrich.
- Mitt Romney 33%
- Newt Gingrich 29%
- Ron Paul 13%
- Rick Santorum 3%
Paul's support is surpringsly low for somebody who has been campaiging here for months, and had a campaign apparatus on the ground since 2008. While Romney has rock-solid support here and is expected perhaps to even break the 50% mark for the first time in the nominating process, Paul's Nevada campaign boss, Carl Bunce, dismissed the results in an interview with the LVRJ, saying Paul could still win:
"If turnout is higher than 65,000 to 70,000, then more Romney people and more supporters of other candidates are coming up, then we might have some trouble," said Carl Bunce, the Nevada chairman of the Paul campaign. "But we have the numbers to win. We just have to turn them out."
Bunce dismissed the poll results, saying most Paul supporters refuse to participate or lie in surveys because of a bad experience in Nevada four years ago. He said Sen. John McCain's campaign did robocalls to identify Paul supporters and then sidelined them at the state party convention. McCain won the GOP nomination, but the state GOP convention was shut down before delegates could be counted and after Paul supporters tried to take over the meeting from the floor.
"A lot of the political activists don't answer those polls, or answer falsely," Bunce said. "I'm always skeptical of polls."
Not only are Paul and Romney the only ones campaigning outside of Reno and Las Vegas, they are the only ones who have built statewide networks here. Gingrich has been playing catch-up everywhere since his win in South Carolina, as his campaign was built more on free media than it was on a traditional organization. Santorum's shoestring operation bailed on Florida when it was clear they were wasting their time and quickly bought air time in Nevada for tough ads like this.
These polls are tricky, because caucuses are a completely different animal than a straight primary. Voters have many opportunities to change their minds during a caucus, because they go on for a few hours. They require a deeper understanding of process and devotion to candidate that goes beyeond spending 10 minutes at a polling station. Paul has this in his base of support here. He could perform much better on Saturday than polls are indicating.