Newt's Vegas Odds

By one measure, at least, Nevada should be Newt Gingrich’s kind of state. Like the Newtster himself, it’s grown comfortable with divorce, having had the highest divorce rate of any of the 50 states in a succession of decennial Census reports. In a state full of weather-beaten tumbleweeds, Newt’s peregrinations should be distinctly no big whoop.

Whether a man can build his campaign on his divorce record isn’t likely to be tested by the former speaker, however. In the state’s Republican caucuses coming up on Saturday, Gingrich’s base is clearly made up of the same Tea Party activists who inflicted Sharron Angle on state Republicans in 2010’s Senate contest. But caucuses don’t reflect or necessarily reward anger. They reward organization, of which Gingrich, by all available evidence, has none in Nevada, unless we count Sheldon Adelson.

Both Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, by contrast, have more clearly defined constituencies behind them and, more important, actual organizations. Romney’s core backers are his fellow Mormons, whose desert wanderings deposited them one state west of Utah. Only about 8 percent of Nevada’s GOP electorate is Mormon, but in 2008, when Romney swept the caucuses with 51 percent of the vote, entrance polls showed that fully a quarter of GOP caucus participants were Mormon. Romney began with them, and he’s been lining up his backers for a triumphal return engagement.

Ron Paul’s Nevada base couldn’t be more different from Romney’s. Nevada is a lot more libertarian than it is Mormon—indeed, a lot more libertarian than just about any other state. Already endorsed by the proprietor of one of the state’s legal brothels, Paul should benefit from the state’s laissez faire and secular culture: In a 2006 Gallup survey, Nevada had the third-lowest rate of weekly church attendance. Paul’s raggedy band of young acolytes has been building its caucus operation for some time, too.

What matters in a caucus state isn’t the breadth of your support but the intensity and the level of organization devoted to mobilizing that intensity. In Nevada, Romney and Paul can claim the only sizable groups of true believers—Mormons and libertarians—and their campaigns have worked to turn them out. They’ll likely leave Gingrich in the dust. As for poor Rick Santorum, it’s hard to imagine a less hospitable stop on his evangelical road show than the fleshpots of Vegas. Whatever happens in Vegas, it’s not likely to be a good showing for Santorum.