Romney, Cain lead in Nevada heading into debate

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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As most of the GOP candidates head to Nevada for Tuesday’s debate, a poll released Monday found that Mitt Romney and Herman Cain currently lead in the state.

The poll, conducted by Project New West — which is holding a political summit in Las Vegas — found that Romney is in the lead among registered Republicans with 31 percent of the vote, while Cain is a close second with 26 percent. Rick Perry, who was endorsed by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, is in third with 12 percent. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul tie for fourth with 7 percent.

Project New West suggests that “GOP voters have soured on Romney since 2008, when he won 51 percent of the Nevada caucus vote.” (RELATED: Read more coverage of the 2012 elections)

However, Romney’s organization could overcome that, says political consultant Chuck Warren of Silver Bullet, LLC.

“Because Romney has a ground game and energetic volunteers he will win this caucus unless some candidate steps up,” Warren emailed. “Romney won it handily in 2008 and still has the same team running the show. They didn’t have to pick up pieces and start over. Also, the [Mormon] community is a strong voting bloc in Nevada.”

Cain’s poll numbers, he argued, are subject to change if he does not establish enough of an organization in the state to get voters out to the caucuses. Cain has said that he will boycott the caucuses if Nevada does move them to a later date as New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has requested.

“Caucuses are a matter of turn out,” said Warren. “If Mr. Cain doesn’t have a field staff and organization, he will not win the Nevada caucuses. Period. You have to get your voters out to the caucus.”

Sandoval’s endorsement of Perry is not well known, at the moment, which Warren says is limiting the effect.

Other than Romney, few candidates have spent time in the first-in-the-West caucus state, so it is possible that more exposure to the candidates in the next few days will change opinion. However, a number of candidates — including Cain, Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman — have threatened a boycott of the Nevada caucus if the scheduling conflict with New Hampshire is not resolved. Huntsman has gone so far as to boycott Tuesday’s debate, and Santorum has cancelled all of his Nevada campaign events in the days before the debate.

The poll is based on a 190-person sample of likely Republican caucus goers from September 25 to September 27. The margin of error is plus or minus 7.1 percent.

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