While his rivals were campaigning in South Carolina, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was in Las Vegas on Thursday, hoping that going against the grain by competing in Saturday's Nevada caucuses will soon make him look like the smart one.
"I feel great about Nevada," Romney said in an interview Thursday evening. "You've got a lot of delegates and a lot of great people. The support I've received here is encouraging, and it's one more reason why I'm going to go on to get the nomination."
Romney is hoping Nevada could be a repeat of Wyoming, where the other candidates all but ignored the Republicans' party conventions on Jan. 5 and Romney ran away with the majority of the delegates, allowing him to claim a "gold" when his "silvers" in Iowa and New Hampshire were casting doubt on his viability.
Nevada's Saturday caucuses for Democrats and Republicans fall on the same day as South Carolina's primary for Republicans only.
"This is about getting delegates," Romney said. "Of course there are some contests more hotly contested than others, but in the final analysis, the person that reaches the delegate target first wins."
Other candidates, he said, ought to be paying more attention to states like Nevada and Wyoming.
"I don't know why the other candidates haven't paid the attention to the intermountain West that I think it deserves," he said. "It's the fastest growing area of the country, and it's got a lot of delegates and a lot of electoral votes."
Republicans, he said, will regret it if they don't work hard for the region.
"We need the intermountain West to win the presidency," he said. "States like Nevada and Colorado are purple states. If you can't compete here in January, how will you compete in November?"
He said he'd "like to do better" than fourth in South Carolina, which is where he stands in a recent poll.
"You can't win them all. I'm not like the New England Patriots," he said, referring to the NFL franchise that recently completed an undefeated regular season. "But you can get delegates, and I'm working hard to get the delegates I need."
Romney on Thursday visited a Claim Jumper restaurant in Henderson, where he accepted the endorsement of state Sen. Joe Heck. In a brief, well-attended news conference, Romney noted that there are 34 delegates up for grabs in Nevada, versus 24 in South Carolina.
However, South Carolina's primary is binding, meaning the state's delegates are committed to support the winning candidate, whereas Nevada's caucuses, like Iowa's, are not. The delegates elected in Saturday's caucuses will elect delegates to the state Republican Convention, who will then elect delegates to the national Republican Convention, and they can support whomever they choose.
Tallying delegates is tricky for that reason and because both parties have "superdelegates" -- prominent people who automatically represent their state at the convention, such as members of Congress. Some superdelegates have voiced support for candidates, but they, too, can change their minds.
Some political observers have posited that the Republicans could have a brokered convention, meaning no one candidate would have enough committed delegates before the September convention in St. Paul, Minn., to wrap up the nomination. Because so many delegates are allowed to change allegiances, there would be a lot of deal-making in that scenario.
Romney told the press, "Washington is broken. Washington does not deal with the issues important to Nevadans," such as health care, the economy and illegal immigration.
He reiterated his stance on Yucca Mountain: "I would do nothing that would put at risk the safety or well-being of the people of Nevada." As before, he would not commit to stopping the proposed nuclear waste repository.
Romney then worked the crowd in the restaurant, shaking hands and kissing babies -- and doing a double take when one baby he picked up looked familiar and turned out to be his 1-year-old grandson.
Below a chandelier made of antlers, in front of a giant stone fireplace, two girls held a poster reading, "Even teens think Mitt is the perfect fit!"
Joe Wyson, 51, the owner of a local paving company, told Romney he was grateful to have a candidate who supports small businesses.
More than 600 supporters greeted Romney at his next stop, an industrial space near the Las Vegas Beltway and Decatur Boulevard. The huge room was almost too packed to move, and stiflingly hot as a result. The crowd spilled out of the room to fill a stairwell and a flight of stairs all the way to the ground floor.
Romney took the stage with one of his five sons, Josh, who lives in Utah and has campaigned frequently for his father in Nevada. As the crowd chanted, "Mitt! Mitt!" Josh joked, "A little enthusiasm would be great, if you don't mind."
Former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn, an early supporter, introduced Romney, also with a joke: "With all the kids here with their parents and grandparents, I thought I was at a Hannah Montana concert!"
Romney, taking the microphone, said, "We thought it was just a warm state because of the temperature, but the warmth of your hearts has really made a difference in our lives.
Picking up the Washington-is-broken theme, he said, "They told us they were going to secure our borders, and they haven't. They told us they were going to cut taxes for middle-income families, and they haven't. They told us they were going to fix Social Security."
"And they haven't," the crowd chanted with him as he also cited broken promises on education and health care.
Later in the speech, he referred to "Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and other great Republicans."
But he ended the speech with a defense of President George W. Bush, as if there were no contradiction. "I know it's popular right now to be critical of the president, but he has kept us safe these last six years," Romney said. "Let's join together here in Nevada to make sure Washington understands that we know that it's broken!"
Romney says he is trying to rebuild the Reagan coalition of social conservatives, small-government conservatives and national-security conservatives. In the interview, he was asked which he would put first, the states' rights so precious to Western voters or his opposition to abortion.
Romney last year told Las Vegas television host Jon Ralston that he would let states determine their own abortion laws, even though he previously said he supported a federal constitutional amendment to ban abortion.
Nevada has a state law that enshrines abortion rights and can only be overturned by a popular vote.
Romney wouldn't give a yes-or-no answer Thursday to whether he supported such an amendment. "I would welcome a time when the people of America would choose not to have abortions, but that's not where we are now," he said.
"I am pro-life, and I would welcome a time when the people of America concluded that abortion was wrong, but that's not where America is, and that's why I believe that the next right step for America is for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade," he said. "That would return to the states and to the elected representatives of the people the ability to set their own laws related to abortion."
Today, Romney travels to Reno and Elko, returning to Southern Nevada early Saturday.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at email@example.com or (702) 387-2919.