A volunteer reviews his notes before the start of the Republican caucus… (David Becker/Getty Images )
Republican caucuses have now begun across much of Nevada, the fifth -- and thus far least contentious -- contest for GOP delegates in the 2012 campaign.
Mitt Romney is widely expected to score an easy victory here Saturday, likely giving him the largest share of the state's 28 convention delegates. Polls showed Newt Gingrich in second place, though Ron Paul also has the potential for a strong showing.
The three full days of campaigning in the state lacked the intensity of the four contests that preceded. Candidates have already begun looking ahead to the coming contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, even though none will immediately determine delegates.
The state hoped for much more when it was given special status among the four earliest-voting states, making it "First in the West." National Republicans initially slated Nevada third in line of the nominating process, coming after Iowa's caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
But the successful effort by Florida Republicans to elbow their way ahead in that order forced a scramble among the other states that pitted Nevada against New Hampshire, a battle the Silver State just could not win. Nevada Republicans backed their caucus from Jan. 14, four days after the New Hampshire primary and a week before South Carolina's, to today.
Not only did candidates spend a fraction of the time here that they did elsewhere, few spent substantially on television advertising. The ad tracking service CMAG found that since Jan. 1, Paul spent the most on TV ads in the state, nearly $870,000, according to CNN. Romney has spent $488,460, about half of which was spent in the last week.
Romney spent nearly $7 million ahead of the Florida primary last Tuesday.
Nearly 1.7 million votes were cast in Florida's primary. A quarter-million were cast in New Hampshire. About 120,000 Iowa Republicans caucused on Jan. 3. One Nevada Republican Party official predicted a turnout of about 55,000 at Saturday's caucuses.
But Nevada's delegates -- the second-biggest prize to date -- will count just as much as those states' will. And for Romney, a win will only add to his lead and momentum ahead of more consequential races in Arizona and Michigan at month's end, and Super Tuesday the following week.
Results from Nevada will begin to be posted from parts of the state at 5 p.m. Pacific, though results in the most-heavily populated county, Clark, won't be released until after special evening caucus has convened in the evening.
Those results will be released precinct by precinct on Twitter.