In action, the Nevada caucuses were a messy affair. Unlike Iowans, Nevadans are new to large-scale caucusing, the precinct meetings that technically exist to elect delegates to Republican conventions. Many were unclear on the whole concept, particularly the requirement for on-time, in-person participation rather than primary-style all-day, drop-in balloting. At one Las Vegas high school, would-be voters continued to trickle in long past the 9 a.m. start time, only to be turned away because caucusing had concluded.
More than four dozen precincts gathered at Western High School, meeting individually in classrooms or around cafeteria tables. Some precincts had a single voter; one consisted of a Romney supporter and a Paul supporter, debating foreign-policy and the Constitution for over an hour as they sat at a table waiting for their ballots to arrive; others featured groups of previously unacquainted neighbors holding frank discussions of their views of the candidates.
That was the case for Precinct No. 4612, a 17-vote caucus that convened over three jammed-together tables in Western's cafeteria, which was decorated with red construction-paper hearts in anticipation of Valentine's Day. A portly Ron Paul supporter in a striped tie presided; a young couple of Romney supporters took turns rocking their 7-month-old daughter; a couple of Filipino immigrants who'd recently acquired citizenship said their votes were guided by Jesus; a grizzled man in a dirty cap railed against illegal immigration.
A 40ish man in a red tracksuit and matching cap professed himself "depressed by the state of our country," and ran down his views of the candidates.
"Newt Gingrich has government solutions to stuff I didn't know was a problem," he said. "Mitt Romney -- I understand you're from Massachusetts, but you are totally unfamiliar with the philosophy of conservatism. Ron Paul: Is there a conspiracy theory you do not subscribe to? Have you ever gotten anything done in Congress? Rick Santorum supported [former Pennsylvania Sen.] Arlen Specter and bailouts and government spending. He's probably not much of a conservative either. But of the four, he's the least offensive to me."
That was the man's speech in favor of Santorum. But Paul got the most votes in that precinct -- seven.
At a neighboring table, one man spoke fervently of Gingrich's "bold ideas," only to have an older woman call out from the other end of the table: "I'm not for having an ex-mistress as first lady. Let's get real." Precinct winner: Gingrich.
The overall tally of the 342 votes cast at Western, after a protracted and improvisational counting process overseen by representatives of the Romney and Paul campaigns: 142 for Romney, or 42 percent; 88 for Paul (26 percent); 82 for Gingrich (24 percent); 30 for Santorum (9 percent).