Counting the votes in Nevada's Republican presidential caucuses turned out to be more difficult than expected, but this morning, the final results were announced. The tally largely reflects what we already knew: Mitt Romney won easily, finishing with 50% (16,486 votes).
What was far more interesting was the turnout.
Total turnout was 32,930, far less than the 44,000 Republicans who voted in the GOP caucuses in 2008.
Going into Saturday's contest, Nevada GOP leaders told reporters they expected 70,000 Republicans to participate. The final tally shows the party failed to even reach half that total.
What's more, if Nevada were the only state that struggled, it'd be easier to overlook. Unfortunately for the GOP, though, the poor showing in the Silver State fits into a larger pattern.
The Republicans' primary in Florida last week, for example, showed a sharp decline in turnout (about 14%) as compared to 2008. In the Iowa caucuses, GOP turnout fell short of expectations, and in the New Hampshire primary, it happened again. Turnout in South Carolina was strong, but given the party's difficulties in the other four contests, it's proving to be the exception.
To reiterate a point from last week, this is not at all what Republican leaders anticipated. On the contrary, GOP officials in the states and at the national level assumed the exact opposite would happen.
Remember, Republican turnout was supposed to soar in these early contests because of the larger circumstances.
GOP voters are reportedly eager, if not foaming-at-the-mouth desperate, to fight a crusade against President Obama, and they had plenty of high-profile candidates trying to stoke their enthusiasm.
This, coupled with the boost from the so-called Tea Party "movement," suggested energized Republicans would turn out in numbers that far exceeded the totals we saw in 2008, when GOP voters were depressed and it was Democrats who enjoyed the bulk of the excitement.
But in four of the five contests thus far, that hasn't happened.
At this point in 2008, after Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada picked their preferred nominee, 2,793,538 GOP voters had participated. As of this morning, after those same five states have held their nominating contests, the total of Republicans voting is 2,679,841. Despite the strong showing in South Carolina, that's still a drop off of 4% when party leaders assumed the opposite.
The last thing party leaders wanted to see was evidence of a listless, uninspired party, underwhelmed by their field of candidates. Republicans probably won't fret publicly, but the turnout numbers should give party leaders pause.