Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney waves to supporters at… (Barry Gutierrez / European…)
Reporting from Las Vegas — Mitt Romney jumped to a commanding lead Saturday in preliminary results from the Nevada caucuses, positioning him for a big win in the first Western contest of the Republican presidential race.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas were locked in a fight for second place, with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum far behind in fourth.
A victory would be the second in less than a week for Romney, following his big win in Florida's primary on Tuesday, and the third the former Massachusetts governor has posted in the five nominating contests so far.
At stake were 28 delegates to this summer's Republican National Convention, awarded on a proportional basis. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the nomination, and Romney holds the early lead there as well.
But even more significant was the boost that Romney would gain from a strong showing in back-to-back states, carrying him into the next round of balloting set for Tuesday in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri.
Romney, who won Nevada by a landslide four years ago, enjoyed several advantages Saturday on top of the momentum from his Florida win. More than a quarter of the electorate was Mormon and entrance polls indicated that more than 9 in 10 of that group voted for Romney, who shares their faith.
But Romney's commanding performance was built on more than religious affinity; he garnered broad support across the breadth of the GOP, as he did in Florida and New Hampshire, the other state he has won.
Entrance polls showed Romney carrying just about every category of caucusgoer on Saturday, save the youngest, the secular and those making the least money. Those voters preferred Paul.
The final results will not be announced until after 8 p.m. local time, at the conclusion of a special Las Vegas caucus held for those observing the Sabbath.