Nevada caucuses suffer low turnout, surly confrontations

Nevada Republican Party officials may be rethinking how they conduct caucuses after Saturday night's main event provided much lower-than-expected turnout and a bitter confrontation ensued at a special evening caucus after people were turned away for not proving they were delayed from earlier voting because of the Jewish Sabbath.

Mitt Romney was the big winner, with 50 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich was in second, Ron Paul placed third and Rick Santorum finished last.

Romney won 13 of 16 counties, though he won all but one in 2008. That was Nye County, which this year repeated its 2008 result and gave its support to Paul. Paul also picked up Esmeralda County -- by one vote over Romney. Mineral County narrowly went to Gingrich, by two votes. Esmeralda and Mineral County had 58 and 103 votes total, respectively.

But final results of Saturday's election were delayed Sunday as Clark County officials called it a night before finishing the tally, and decided to return on Sunday to wrap up.

Based on the current trend in counting, turnout will be down for 15 of Nevada's 17 counties, up in one and nearly identical in White Pine County, which submitted 233 votes.

In 2008, the GOP counted 44,324 votes. If current calculations hold, that would mean there were about 10,000 fewer votes in 2012 than in 2008, which is almost half the amount Nevada GOP Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian predicted.

State officials on Saturday night said voters may have been turned off from the process four years ago. They also pointed out that the caucus time may not have helped people attend. They also say outreach was less than desired.

One Nevada GOP official acknowledged that Nevada isn't Iowa, where rural communities are small and close-knit and accustomed to coming together. Nevada, on the other hand, has two urban areas and vast expanses of nothingness in between.

That distaste for the process was clearly reflected in Clark County, which descended into chaos Saturday night when several people who tried to enter Summerlin's Adelson Educational Campus were turned away. The campus is named after Sheldon Adelson, a Newt Gingrich supporter who persuaded officials to hold the caucuses in the evening so that Jewish and Seventh Day Adventist voters could participate and not violate the Saturday Sabbath that prohibits work or activities like driving to the caucus site.

But those who arrived at the school Saturday night told Fox 5 in Las Vegas that they were prevented from voting unless they signed an affidavit proving that they were delayed by their religion.

Shoving and shouting reportedly ensued and people who refused to sign the paper tried to fight their way in, arguing they were being denied their rights to vote.

Chuck Muth, a Gingrich supporter and longtime GOP operative as past executive director for both the American Conservative Union and the Nevada Republican Party, blasted his state's GOP leadership for making the caucuses "a complete, total, national laughingstock."

"This is beyond embarrassing. This is beyond humiliating. GOP leaders here ought to be forced to wear brown bags over their heads from now until the convention," he wrote in a statement that detailed what he claimed were robocalls by Paul supporters to go to the school and vote again.

"The GOP here has known about this caucus for four years. Nevertheless, it blew the opportunity to use it for voter registration gains. It blew the opportunity to get lots and lots of presidential candidates here early and often. It blew the opportunity to use it to raise a boatload of money via the Western States Republican Leadership Conference," Muth said.

But even with the night not going as well as some hoped, the candidates say they are not giving up.

Paul, who has staked his election strategy on the caucus states, said he doesn't think voter turnout is a reflection of a lack of enthusiasm about the candidates.

"Well, the first thing you want to achieve is get as many votes as you can and get as many delegates and set your target high. And, of course, you set it for victory, but you have to live within the real world. But in the campaign, that is what the goal is, is to galvanize people, energize people, get them out and vote," he told ABC's "This Week."

Santorum, who had his worst showing yet, admittedly did not spend time or money in Nevada. He said he's counting on a stronger showing in the upcoming voting states of Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Tuesday.

"I think you wait for Tuesday. I mean, the first five states were sort of cast in stone. They were the five states. ... Now, we're getting to the states where people don't have the natural advantage, don't have the time commitment, the staff commitment to really build out an organization like they did in these first five," he told "Fox News Sunday."