OK, Romney won Nevada in a landslide. (Actually 48% of the vote, but almost half, which is good for Romney...) This is confirmation that his nomination is inevitable, right?
Not so fast. In 2008, Mormons were about 27% of the vote. Romney won 95% of the Mormon vote. This time around the turnout was light, and (according to the AP) Mormons were at least 25% of the turnout again.
Running some numbers, it turns out that if the Mormon turnout was the same this time as last, and that if Romney won 95% of the Mormon vote again, then you can calculate Romney's share of the non-Mormon vote. The answer: Romney won 31% of the non-Mormon vote.
Now, if we assume that Newt, Paul and Santorum split the Mormon and non-Mormon votes in the same percentages, then we can compute how much of the non-Mormon vote they won. Turns out that Newt won 31% of non-Mormons; Paul won 25%; and Santorum won 15%.
Romney also arguably underperformed relative to the last time around, in 2008. In 2008, he won Nevada with 51% of the vote. Turnout was 44,000, despite the fact that many Republicans crossed over to vote in the Democrat primary (Operation Chaos!). The total vote count from yesterday's primary, with 1305 out of 1805 precincts reporting, was 24,000 (as of 5:30 EST Sunday). Maybe the turnout will match that of 2008 when the other precincts report, but news articles said that turnout was light.
So if I were a Republican strategist, I would have three thoughts:
1. Newt and Romney tied for the non-Mormon vote.
2. Newt extended his lead over Santorum, while Paul held steady. (It was a really bad day for Santorum.)
3. There could be an enthusiasm gap developing. Remember that the Republicans did so well in 2010 because Tea Party voters were enthusiastic. Republican strategists say that Newt would doom chances to win the Senate and maybe hold the House. Is this really true? Or could Romney create such an enthusiasm gap that Republican turnout will fall?
A win is a win, and congratulations to Romney for it. But it's not correct to say that this win was a confirmation of his inevitability, unless one anticipates that Mormons will be 27% of the electorate in the remaining Republican primaries. My conclusion is that Newt has once again bounced back, and that if he is able to stay positive and recognize that Romney and others will try to bait him to go negative, then Newt has an excellent shot, still. My other conclusion is that this result was a very weak one for Santorum.