The end results for Ron Paul in Nevada were nearly heartbreakingly disappointing–third behind Gingrich with 18.7 percent, just 6,175 total votes in a very low turnout caucus vote, with more than 10,000 fewer GOP caucus goers than 2008. This was for a campaign and candidate that expected at the least a strong second and, if they continued their pattern of enormous state-by-state increases vs. their vote totals in 2008, maybe even win. See this chart to see what a bizarre outlier Nevada was in terms of Paul improving over 2008:
In some good news, Paul outperformed and Gingrich underperformed the last Public Policy Polling poll leading up to the vote, Paul outperforming by around 4 percentage points and Gingrich underperforming by the same.
What went wrong? Reports of general human error incompetence in the Nevada vote counting and caucus locations abound, and Paul fans more darkly suspect shenanigans that deliberately undercount Paul's vote. (Best I could gather from in-the-know campaign officials indicates that no one thinks there's enough evidence on the table of deliberate cheating to raise a public stink.) Some precinct irregularites might have resulted in precincts being "thrown out," reports the Las Vegas Sun, and Washoe County claimed the state was misreporting results and Clark County's counting process was suspiciously drawn-out over days.
What went wrong for Paul's team? Paul's vaunted ground game did what it usually did in terms of input–lots of bodies on ground, and calls made–100,000 of them in the three days prior to the vote, a one-day possible world record of 40,000 calls made from one location, according to one volunteer.
The campaign had identified as many as 24,000 supposedly committed voters in their phone call operation (that's far more than the 16,486 Romney got, which explains why wild dreams of a win for Paul's people were not so outrageous). But only a bit more than 6,000 actually voted. Unlike the Paul campaign's success in actually generating turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire, that final crucial step, the one that's up to the voters themselves, the one that no amount of Ron Paul campaign staff or volunteer work can do for them–getting off their ass and going to the caucus meeting–was neglected by far too many voters.
The result was a huge morale blow to the campaign and the candidate. It was also somewhat confusing and infuriating. "I don't know, 6,000 just seems astonishingly low," one volunteer on the ground there says. "Out of all the different public events I went with him to, I swear well more than 6,000 attended those events. And I didn't even go to Reno and the west side of the state." This same activist said that though his and many other fans heads can't wrap their heads around how this happened, "I know the campaign's mentality is, just move on to the next state and get to work."
But the campaign did collect five committed delegates to Gingrich's six, Paul supporters (though bound to the state's proportional results at the Tampa national convention, if those candidates are still running) did their usual game of waiting it out to make sure delegates to the convention are disproportionately from the Paul movement, which will effect the shape of the party's ideology down the road in interesting and likely good ways whether or not Ron Paul is the GOP candidate. Maine and Minnesota and Colorado loom ahead, all nonbinding straw poll caucuses, where Paul is expected by some in the know to wrack up a possible win in Maine, very likely second places in at least Maine and Minnesota (and probably not much in straw vote terms in Colorado), with the usual caucus game of making sure Paul people move ahead to their state and later national GOP conventions as delegates.
In total, the result was disappointing, and bad for media expectations, and surely disappointing and aggravating to Ron Paul himself. (I witnessed in the Ames straw poll in Iowa how let-down he can feel when he has a realistic expectation of doing much better than he does.) All the campaign can tell their supporters is: it's great to express your support for Paul; please try to do it by showing up to vote for him.
And the larger game continues, with no foregone conclusions: collecting delegates, making sure Ron Paul people begin inhabiting the Republican Party in greater numbers, and showing the importance of the ideas of limited government, fiscal sanity, sound money, and sane foreign policy to politicians and media of all parties via the vehicle of Ron Paul. Candidates do not have to win elections to shape political parties and the political future, and despite Gingrich's "in it for the long haul" bravado, right now Ron Paul still seems like the most likely not-Romney to have the cash and juice to do it, because Paul people don't just give because they think he might or will win–they also give because they want to show their support for the ideas he uniquely represents in American politics.
Media bias lesson via Politico: When Paul people are well organized enough to show up and win a caucus, that means they "hijacked" it. CNN reports from that Paul-dominated late-night caucus:
My forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution.
UPDATE: Some relevant info I didn't have in front of me when I posted this originally: youth turnout, always good for Paul, was dismal in Nevada Saturday; only one percent of under 30s voted, compared to 5 percent in 2008. And yes, Paul dominated that one percent, getting 41 percent of their vote.