LAS VEGAS (AP) - The economy was on the minds of Nevada voters
who fanned out to fire stations, schools and an empty warehouse
Saturday, some braving freezing temperatures before sunrise to cast
their vote for a GOP presidential nominee and try to generate buzz
for a November showdown against President Barack Obama.
GOP caucuses began as early as 7 a.m. in the state capital of Carson City, with a "vote and go" option for shift workers and others unable to attend the regular caucus meeting. Depending on the county, caucuses were scheduled at various times throughout the day.
Rita Homer and her husband, Brad, were the first in line when the doors opened in Carson City around dawn.
For them, unemployment and immigration are the biggest concerns in this year's presidential race. They planned to vote for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"He has some off-the-wall ideas, but I have no problem with that," said Rita Homer, 60, an office manager. "If he wants someone on the moon, let's get there first."
Rosemary Millet, 56, was backing Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who won the Nevada caucus four years ago.
"We need a financial genius at this point and I think he's it," she said.
In southern Nevada, there was confusion at Green Valley High School when several hundred caucus-goers converged on the school auditorium only to find a school event already scheduled.
Caucus organizers began ushering people to various classrooms for meetings by precinct number.
A special 7 p.m. caucus was to be held to accommodate religious
voters in Clark County who celebrate the Saturday Sabbath. Caucus
results will be released by the state Party via Twitter and Google.
Romney was a projected favorite over Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
The Nevada caucuses are the first-in-the-West Republican presidential contest and the fifth in the nation.
Romney carried the state four years ago, benefiting in part by the large Mormon presence in Nevada.
Paul finished second in Nevada in 2008, and is counting on continued support Saturday from a loyal base attracted to his libertarian, anti-government and anti-tax message.
State GOP leaders expect 50,000 to 60,000 voters - out of 400,000 active registered Republicans in Nevada - to participate. At stake are 28 delegates to this summer's Republican nominating convention that will be awarded proportionally based on the outcome of Saturday's contest.
All four candidates crisscrossed the state this week, trying to woo voters in a state that has been slow to recover from the economic blows of the Great Recession.
Nevada's unemployment rate has been highest in the nation since May 2010, soaring to just shy of 15 percent later that year. By December 2011, the rate receded to 12.6 percent, but more than
166,000 people remained out of work.
The collapse of the housing market left a majority of homeowners
underwater on mortgages, and one in every 177 homes was in foreclosure in December, also the highest rate in the nation.