|Romney crushed rivals Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum in Nevada [Reuters]
Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney has easily won Nevada's presidential caucuses, further taking command of the party's race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama.
Romney's win on Saturday was his second in a row and third in the first five contests in the state-by-state Republican nominating battle.
The well-funded and organised Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, crushed rivals Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.
Romney captured 44 per cent of the vote, with about 43 per cent of precincts counted, taking about a 20-point lead over his closest rivals.
Nevada, which has a faltering economy and a big Mormon population, was considered friendly territory for Romney, a Mormon and former head of a private equity firm.
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He captured 51 per cent of the vote in 2008 to win the state during his failed 2008 presidential bid.
Romney had stressed his business background as a cure for the ailing economy in Nevada, which has the country's highest state unemployment rate, 12.6 per cent in December, and the highest home foreclosure rate.
One Republican voter in Pahrump, a town near Las Vegas, told Al Jazeera, "I think the consensus is that we don't need socialism, and that's how we feel about Obama."
Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds, reporting from Parhump, said: "With Nevada and other western swing states likely to play a crucial role in this year's presedential election, the candidates will be paying a lot more attention to places like this."
Romney hopes the Nevada result will launch a February winning streak that could position him for a knockout blow to his main rival, Gingrich, during the 10 "Super Tuesday" contests on March 6.
Gingrich held a news conference after the results were announced to head off any speculation that he might put an early
end to his campaign.
"I'm not going to withdraw," Gingrich told reporters, repeating his frequent vow to continue his campaign all the way
to the nominating convention in Florida in August. "I'm actually pretty happy with where we are."
Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri will have nominating contests on Tuesday. Maine will wrap up its weeklong caucuses next Saturday, and Arizona and Michigan hold February 28 contests.
Romney won Colorado, Minnesota, Maine and Michigan during his failed 2008 presidential bid.
He came in second in Arizona to native son and eventual nominee John McCain, an Arizona senator, and finished third in Missouri.
"It is still a race, but Romney is pulling away, for sure," Reynolds said.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies