Nightly News   |  January 31, 2012

Mitt Romney sets his sights on Nevada

The former Massachusetts governor is leading in the polls, but has yet to convince the party’s conservative base that he’s the best choice. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports.

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>>> good evening in florida , it's all over tonight, at least until the general elections . the advertisements will go dark, the candidates will move on then comes the tricky part for the gop presidential campaign . if the romney lead in the polls holds in the actual polls tonight, if he emerges from florida on top, what does that mean for newt gingrich ? as the campaign starts to stretch out a little bit, as the nonstop debates stop for a while, will the field thin out, for example 1234 ? after the voters of the single most valuable swing state on the electoral mall have their say tonight. it's another important moment we're looking at in a campaign that's already had more than its share. our political team is in place to cover it all tonight from the field. and here with us in the studio, we begin with nbc's peter alexander in tampa. pete erk good evening.

>> reporter: brian, good evening to you. if he has a strong showing here tonight, romney 's success may be due in large part to negative advertising . his campaign and supporters have spent more than $15 million. the romney campaign has aired just a single positive ad, and that was featuring romney 's son in spanish. heavily favored tonight, romney made hisvoters in tampa, trying to shore up support in a state he lost four years ago.

>> anne and christine, this is mitt romney calling. i'm sorry to have missed you, but it's actually me calling.

>> on the campaign trail monday night -- oh beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain

>> reporter: romney led the crowd in singing " america the beautiful." america , america

>> reporter: but despite strong poll numbers, romney has yet to show that he can convince the party's conservative base that he's the best choice . romney says his surge here is the campaign's decision to aim a barrage of negative ads against newt gingrich .

>> we stood back and spoke about president obama and suffered the consequence of that.

>> reporter: still recent polls suggest romney 's strategy is hurting his image with independents. the nasty tone of this race with negative ads accounting for more than 90% of those airing in the last week is wearing thin on republicans here, too.

>> it was a tough choice between a bunch of people who are attacking each other, going after each other for, in my opinion, all the wrong reasons.

>> reporter: romney is already setting his sights on february contests like nevada and colorado, where rick santorum and ron paul , both of who have ceded florida 's winner-take-all primary have been campaigning for days.

>> no matter what happens in florida , this race is wide open . they all want to write the race is over, the nomination is sealed. baloney.