On Saturday the Republican presidential race moves on to the Nevada caucuses. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal poll, Mitt Romney is "headed for a blowout victory" in the state, leading Newt Gingrich by 20 points among likely caucus-goers. After his wide margin of victory last month in Florida, some pundits have all but declared Romney the Republican nominee.
But former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele says, considering that we're only five contests into the 50-state primary season, nobody can claim a lock on the nomination yet. "Did we think that this race would even go this long?" he said in an interview with The Root. "I mean, a lot of people were predicting that it would have been over in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now people are trying to say, 'Well, this is it this time.' I don't know about that, but the one thing that I do know is that the voters in the Republican primary want their opportunity to speak."
Additionally, the huddle of caucuses in the coming week (Maine, Colorado and Minnesota) may give other candidates a unique opportunity to pick up steam. As Sarah Schweitzer of the Boston Globe explains, the time-consuming caucus format rewards candidates with long, detailed campaigning efforts and loyal bases. "Caucuses are thought to offer Paul the greatest leverage because they tend to be sparsely attended by the most motivated voters — meaning that highly organized campaigns like Paul's have the advantage," she writes.
Steele, who oversaw the RNC process of changing the rules for this year's Republican primaries, which allocate delegates using a proportional system instead of using the previous winner-takes-all rule, said the changes were designed to keep the race from wrapping up too early. "When we sat down and developed a strategy for this primary, one of the things that was foremost in our minds was fleshing this out. We didn't want it to end in February," he said. "I'd like to see this move into March and maybe even early April to allow for a fuller discussion."
Aside from letting the voters steer that discussion instead of anointing an "establishment" winner before the contest is over, the protracted GOP race is also a good deal for the Obama campaign. As the candidates battle one another, the president — who knowingly unveiled a new housing plan this week, just before the contest in Nevada (the nation's leader in foreclosures) — continues his campaign narrative generally unchallenged.
Do you think the Republican nomination is already a lock, or is nothing decided yet?
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.