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Rick Santorum Cleans Up In Three Primary States


[credit: Reuters]
Okay gang -- Rick Santorum is apparently on the comeback trail. Color me shocked:
Santorum beat Romney handily in the Missouri primary and Minnesota caucuses, and well after midnight on the East Coast he was also declared the winner of Colorado’s caucuses. He defeated Romney by 30 percentage points in Missouri, 55 percent to 25 percent; in Minnesota, Santorum took 45 percent to Ron Paul’s 27 percent and Romney’s 17 percent.

The margin in Colorado was the closest of the three contests — Santorum led by 5 points with 100 percent of precincts in. But that defeat may have stung the most for Romney, who led polling in the Western state, where his Mormon faith was expected to be an asset.

All three primaries and caucuses are largely symbolic and no delegates were awarded Tuesday night. Colorado and Minnesota Republicans will apportion their delegates in subsequent party meetings, while Missouri will hold an entirely new, nonbinding caucus process next month.
BUT, despite the symbolic-y-ness of these three primary contests, Mitt Romney has got to be pissed.

Santorum's campaign is funded on a glorified shoestring -- at least in comparison to Romney's. Romney is getting all of the coveted big endorsements -- Santorum got the Duggars. Yeah.

Since the Florida primary last week the conventional wisdom has been that Mitt Romney has the nomination All Sewn Up. But apparently, none of this matters in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.

So, the question is this: were yesterday's primary results a fluke, or does Mitt Romney really have something about which he should be concerned?

My view? No, he does not.

Granted, earlier this week, the Romney campaign started to set it's sights on Santorum's campaign. Former Governor of Minnesota and GOP Presidential contender Tim Pawlenty even admitted that Rick Santorum is a candidate that the Romney campaign needs to take seriously:
Speaking with reporters on a Romney campaign press call, Tim Pawlenty hit Rick Santorum as a "champion of earmarks" and explained the decision to hold the first Santorum-specific call as a sign of the "different dynamics" in Minnesota and the other states that will vote this week.

“Each state, each week brings a different dynamic in the region of the country, or the dynamics of the particular states involved,” he said, noting that this week's contests are “different than Nevada, and it will be different than the dynamics in Michigan and Arizona.”

He acknowledged that Santorum has a "credible campaign" and is now "showing some levels of support beyond" his third- or fourth-place finish in the past few primaries.

"He's a credible candidate and deserves to be right in the middle of the back-and-forth of the campaigns, and I think that’s what you see happening," he said.
But, I don't think that was anything more than the Romney campaign going after Santorum as a way to marginalize Newt "let's put a colony on the moon" Gingrich.

No, the one item that gives me pause about Santorum's situation is best summed up by Ron Elvin at NPR:
Big, big night for Santorum. So, the kid stays in the picture.

In fact, if you were watching CNN, you got the impression you should be ordering your tickets for his inauguration.

OK. Take a breath. Now let's take another look at those facts.

Not only was the Missouri vote a "beauty contest," binding no delegates, but the turnout there was less than 6 percent of the voting-age population — a paltry number for a statewide primary. Moreover, Missouri's results were a bit askew because Gingrich did not get on the ballot.

In Minnesota, a state of about the same population, the party caucuses drew just over 50,000 participants (about a fifth as many as in Missouri). That was a little over 1 percent of the voting-age population. Again, no commitment of delegates.

In Colorado, again a state of roughly 5 million people, about 65,000 turned out, but that was still well below 2 percent of the voting-age population. Delegate haul? Well, zero for now.

That's not much of a plebiscite. And it could be a poor indicator of the sentiment of most Republicans and independents. What it measures instead is the ardor of that fraction of the GOP vote that is willing to turn out for a nighttime caucus where no delegates are actually being decided.
Emphases mine.

When you look at the excruciatingly low turnout for, well, any of the candidates, we have to at least consider the idea that Santorum may not be the Comeback Kid that pundits and pollsters are suggesting.

Over at GOP12, Christian Heinze titled his Santorum-filled round-up "Romney Loses Big" -- complete with a disgruntled-looking Mitt Romney photo at the top of the post. But, with 6 percent, 1 percent and two percent turnout in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado respectively, I'm not sure that Mitt Romney was the loser.

...or at the very least, Mitt Romney wasn't the only loser.

That said, I will agree with Heinze on one thing: we should not count Romney out:
a. Romney is still the clear front-runner.

If you think Mitt might lose, task yourself with this exercise. Come up with a credible path to the nomination for Santorum or Gingrich. On nights like this, it's easy to suddenly imagine Romney disintegrating like the Ottoman Empire.

But only when you see how hard it will be for his opponents to win... can you see how easy it still is for Mitt.

I don't mean "easy" as in "effort", but "easy" as in probability.

That being said, I do see one way Romney could lose, and it's not with Santorum or Gingrich headlining Tampa. It's with the GOP being so freaked out about Santorum or Gingrich that someone new arises -- either on the way to Tampa or once there -- and everyone can cheer for Jeb Bush and go home happy.

But that's very remote, and that's because it's still remote that Romney will lose.

He has every advantage that he had coming into tonight -- money, organization, and a few big wins (Florida, chiefly) to his credit.
Indeed.

A weak candidate Romney may be, but he's still the clear front-runner for the GOP nod.

All of the above being said, I must admit a teeny-tiny little bit of pleasure at seeing Santorum stick it to the Big Boys last night. Please don't misunderstand me; I think that a Rick Santorum presidency would be disastrous for our country, and the world. I disagree with him on a whole host of varying issues from civil rights to foreign policy.

But, he won last night -- and he did it against some very long odds. Kudos, Senator.