Romney favourite in Nevada caucuses
Mitt Romney, heavily favoured to win Nevada's presidential caucuses, focused on the state's well-above-average unemployment rate rather than campaigning against chief Republican rival Newt Gingrich.
Campaigning throughout the state on Saturday, Mr Romney sought to convince weary voters that he alone had the prescriptions for what ails the US - even as the government reported that a quarter of a million Americans streamed back into the workforce in January.
A confident Mr Romney cruised to victory in Florida on Tuesday - a major win in the contest to decide who will face President Barack Obama in the November general election. He handily won Nevada four years ago.
Mr Gingrich, Texas Rep Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum are also on the ballot. However Mr Romney, a Mormon, has an existing network of support from his 2008 race and probably benefit again from the support of members of his church, many of whom live in Nevada.
Nevada's unemployment rate was 12.6% in December after a record economic bust that saw bustling building sites abandoned and master-planned communities overtaken by repossessions. Mr Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, accused Mr Obama of failing to do enough to create jobs in the state.
Mr Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, who is fighting for a respectable Nevada showing, rolled out a fresh line of criticism by comparing Mr Romney to Mr Obama.
"It isn't good enough for the Republican Party to nominate Obama lite," he told a boisterous crowd at a rally at country music club. He said Mr Romney was against the "American ideal" and did not understand the free market. Mr Romney did not immediately counter the attack.
The new jobs snapshot showed the US unemployment rate tumbled to 8.3% - almost the same rate it was right after Mr Obama took office, when a monstrous recession was gobbling up American jobs. Recruitment is now on a consistent upswing and employers added nearly twice as many jobs last year as they did in 2010.
Mr Romney acknowledged the brightening economic picture but argued it had little to do with Mr Obama or his policies. "The policies of this administration have not been helpful. They, in fact, have been harmful," he said.
Mr Gingrich, looking to recover from the political beating he took in Florida, chose to spend much of his time hammering home his latest argument against a Romney presidency - that there is virtually no difference between Mr Romney and Mr Obama. He has kept a light schedule in Nevada and looks for the Republican contest to turn to the South again in March.