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Santorum Wins Big in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado     Permalink

Left for dead on the campaign trail in New Hampshire and buried in the snow there, Rick Santorum was miraculously resurrected yesterday by the voters of Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado, scoring wins in all three states. As recently as a week ago, he had no chance in any of these states and now this happens. For the candidates (and the political junkies who watch their every move), this has been an exciting year with no end to the twists and turns in sight. Here are the results of the three states that voted yesterday.

Candidate Missouri Minnesota Colorado
Rick Santorum 55% 45% 40%
Mitt Romney 25% 17% 35%
Newt Gingrich - 11% 13%
Ron Paul 12% 27% 12%

The Missouri result is simultaneously the least important and the most important of the three. It is the least important because the primary has nothing to do with the delegate selection process. The actual delegates will be chosen at a caucus in March. But it is also the most important because Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot, thus making this a one-on-one race (at least for the 85% of the Republican electorate not in love with Ron Paul) and a conservative. The result was a crushing defeat for Romney. Santorum won by 30 points, This fact is not going to be lost on anyone, but with Santorum alive again, the schism in the not-Romney camp, which was slowly coalescing around Gingrich, is going widen into a canyon again. In a certain sense that does not matter because delegates are allocated proportionally until April 1 (except for Florida), and all that matters to the conservatives is that Romney doesn't get them. After April 1, it is winner take all almost everywhere, and unless either Santorum or Gingrich drops out, Romney will simply win all the delegates with small pluralities.

Minnesota and Colorado held nonbinding caucuses yesterday. Delegates were elected to the county conventions, but they are not legally bound to support the winners of their precincts. Nevertheless, typically in a precinct caucus, each of the candidates for delegate gets to make a short speech explaining why he or she should be elected to go to the next level. In a caucus full of Santorum supporters, it is unlikely that someone who gets up there and says: "If elected, I will support Mitt Romney" is going to get many votes. So in practice, most of the delegates elected in both states are probably Santorum supporters.

The scope of the disaster for Romney shouldn't be underestimated. He lost every county in Missouri and came in third (after Santorum and Paul) in Minnesota. Romney won both states in 2008. The Minnesota loss is especially painful since former governor and former candidate Tim Pawlenty is Romney's national campaign chairman and has been very active in supporting Romney. In terms of delegates, none of this matters, but in terms of perceptions of inevitability, it weakens Romney substantially.

While we are hardly back to square one, the race has now become extremely muddled. Of the eight states that have voted so far, Santorum has won four, Romney has won three, and Gingrich has won one. The Maine caucuses finish on Saturday and the Northern Marianas (which both parties recognize as a state) also have their caucus on that day. Then Arizona and Michigan vote on Feb. 28 and Washington State on March 3, but there is unlikely to be any real clarity until Super Tuesday, March 6, when Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia vote. With so many states spread over such a large geographical area, this day becomes a real proxy for a national election. Romney has the money and organization to wage a national campaign, something that neither Santorum nor Gingrich can do. On the other hand, given these huge advantages, Romney losses in many states would be disastrous for him and would undoubtedly cause the race to go on for months.

The real loser yesterday was Newt Gingrich. He was on the verge of being the not-Romney and now he has to compete with Santorum again. While Santorum has no money and no organization, he also has no baggage and is probably more acceptable to a wide swath of the Republican base than Gingrich. If Santorum can break out now as the real alternative to Romney, he could cause Romney a lot of trouble.

But whether Santorum's triple victory can slow Romney's march to Tampa remains to be seen. Yesterday notwithstanding, Romney is still the strong favorite, in no small part because the GOP elite really doesn't give a hoot about abortion, gay marriage or the number of wives anybody has had, but is focused like a laser on beating President Obama in November. The fact that Romney is simply unable to excite conservatives is precisely what makes him the strongest general election candidate: independents think he is a centrist. Speaker John Boehner, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, and strategist Karl Rove all understand that a long primary with the candidates attacking each other for months is not going to strengthen Romney in the end, but there is little they can do to force Gingrich and Santorum out of the race. A Marist College poll released yesterday shows that Romney's approval/disapproval rating with the all-important independents is now deep underwater at 22%/42%. The longer Gingrich and/or Santorum keep throwing bombs at Romney the worse it is going to get. In contrast, Obama's approval/disapproval rating is 46%/44% and is gradually getting better. Historically, incumbent Presidents whose approval is above 50% win and those below 50% lose, but never has it happened that an incumbent President faced such an unpopular opponent.

Romney's response to his painful defeats yesterday will no doubt be twofold. First, he will turn on the money machine, allowing his superPACs to start trashing Santorum as well as Gingrich in the Super Tuesday states. Second, he will get more elected Republican officials to endorse him. So far, the first tactic has worked better than the second one. The way it works is the Romney camp picks one thing the opponent has done that is likely to be unpopular with the voters and just harps on it endlessly. In Santorum's case, it is probably going to be his support for earmarks when he was in the Senate. But this is not likely to impress voters who don't even understand what an earmark is. Furthermore, the fact that Santorum tirelessly tried to get federal money to go to Pennsylvania is hardly a great sin. All senators try to get money for their states. It is part of the job description, really. As to endorsements, there is no evidence that they matter. part of the job description, really.

As to endorsements, there is no evidence that they matter. When the peasants are storming the king's castle with pitchforks, getting all the princes and dukes and earls to say what a great guy the king is, is not likely to sooth the peasants. And make no mistake, the GOP is badly split this year between the establishment and the base. No amount of talk from party leaders is going to make the conservative base like Romney. They will all hold their noses and vote for him in the general election if they have to, but they will fight tooth and nail to stop him until he has actually gathered 1144 pledged delegates to the convention.

A new item has been added to the menu below the map today: Primaries & caucuses. It shows all the primaries and caucuses so far, the results, and the upcoming ones. It will be updated in the weeks ahead as new results come in.

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Previous headlines

Feb05 Romney Wins Nevada Caucuses
Feb05 Republican Primary and Caucus Schedule
Feb04 Romney Expected to Win Big at Nevada Caucuses Today
Feb04 Economy is Improving
Feb01 Romney Wins Decisively in Florida
Jan31 Romney Set to Win Big in Florida
Jan31 Santorum Faces Easy Choice Tomorrow
Jan31 Prediction: Florida Will Win Today
Jan27 Romney Takes Off the Gloves in Final Florida Debate
Jan27 Romney Failed to List Foreign Investments on Legal Form
Jan25 Obama Lays Groundwork for a Populist Campaign in State-of-the-Union Speech
Jan24 Romney Releases 2010 Tax Return
Jan24 Role Reversal in the Debate: Romney Attacks, Gingrich Plays Defense
Jan24 Fred Thompson Endorses Newt Gingrich
Jan22 Gingrich Crushes Romney in South Carolina
Jan20 Perry Drops Out and Endorses Gingrich
Jan20 Gingrich Surging in South Carolina
Jan20 Gingrich's Second Wife Attacks Him
Jan20 Romney Loses His Win in Iowa
Jan20 Romney Reported to Have Millions of Dollars in the Cayman Islands
Jan20 The Final Four Take Off the Gloves in the Last Debate before the South Carolina Primary
Jan17 Hard-Hitting Debate in South Carolina Changes Nothing
Jan16 Huntsman Expected to Drop Out Today and Endorse Romney
Jan16 Why is the Republican Field So Weak?
Jan16 South Carolina Debate Tonight
Jan15 Social Conservatives Agree to Back Santorum
Jan13 Eleventh Commandment Repealed
Jan11 NH: Romney 39%, Paul 23%, Huntsman 17%, Gingrich 9%, Santorum 9%
Jan11 Charlie Cook: Redistricting is Politically Neutral
Jan10 Romney Leads Going into the New Hampshire Primary Today
Jan10 Gingrich Goes Negative in South Carolina
Jan08 Romney Survives Debate Unscathed
Jan08 Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
Jan05 Bachmann Drops Out
Jan05 Perry Hesitates, but Stays In
Jan05 Movement Conservatives Attempt to Find a Consensus Candidate
Jan04 Iowa: Romney 24.6%, Santorum 24.6%, Paul 21.4%, Gingrich 13.3%
Jan03 All Eyes on Iowa Today
Jan03 The Horse Race as a Horse Race
Jan01 Happy New Presidential Election Year

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