The PJ Tatler

Santorum Scores a Hat Trick, Upsets Romney in Colorado

In terms of delegates who formally select the Republican nominee at the convention this summer, the contests in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado mean nothing. None of the three states will select their delegates for weeks yet, during which time the race will probably have changed a time or two. Turnout was low in all three. It’s a certainty that had any of the three states awarded delegates as a direct result of these votes, the candidates would have treated them differently in terms of strategy and spending. But the results might mean a few things outside the formal delegate count.

In Missouri, Newt Gingrich was not on the ballot. Rick Santorum won there by 30 points over Mitt Romney, 55-25. Gingrich’s absence from the ballot might hint at what the primary could look like in some states if he is no longer in the race, at least in Midwestern states. That should concern the Romney camp, and force them to make adjustments.

In Minnesota, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s endorsement of Romney doesn’t seem to have helped at all. Santorum won there, and Romney came in a distant third. Paul came in second, and Gingrich finished fourth. Governor endorsements haven’t helped much in primary contests to date: Gov. Haley endorsed Romney in South Carolina and he lost to Gingrich. Pawlenty endorsed Romney in Minnesota, and he lost there too. Newt Gingrich may be counting on the endorsement of Texas Gov. Rick Perry to help him win Texas and capture the majority of its 155 delegates. The evidence suggests he will need more than an endorsement to get what he needs, assuming he is still in the race when Texas goes to the polls. At this point, Texas doesn’t even have an approved election map.

In Colorado, Santorum’s win was narrower but overturns Romney’s 2008 win over John McCain. Santorum won, 40 percent to 35 percent, with Gingrich coming in third. But that 2008 win for Romney might tell us something about the relevance of this one: Romney won Colorado by a huge margin in 2008. But McCain went on to win the nomination. Colorado was the surprise of the day, and helps Santorum frame arguments that he has momentum and is the viable challenger to Mitt Romney.

Issues, and in particular the Obama administration’s decision to force Catholic charities to carry insurance that violates their core beliefs, may have driven some energy toward the one campaign that has focused well and consistently on social issues: Rick Santorum’s. Romney is still encountering serious resistance in the GOP electorate, and may be feeling the effects of his “I’m not concerned about the very poor” and other similarly unhelpful comments that dent his image of electability. Santorum can now expect to become the subject of numerous attack ads in the upcoming states, as other challengers have earlier in the campaign.

One serious concern about Santorum’s electability stems from his 18  point loss in Pennsylvania in 2006, his last election. That concern is, can Santorum compete across the map, in states where he has not had the time to visit every nook and cranny as he did in Iowa? The results in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado award him no delegates, and that is important, but may provide the first hint that Santorum can seriously compete in multiple states at once. That perception can help him gear up for Super Tuesday, March 6, when 10 states flung all over America vote.

Caucus states in general seem to favor more grassroots-styled candidates. Santorum and Paul tend to do well in them. But the national election in November is not even remotely similar to any caucus.

Newt Gingrich is struggling for relevance. He lost Florida after making a big play for that state, lost Nevada and delivered a post-caucus press conference that made that expected loss worse, and performed poorly in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado. Gingrich has recently called for Santorum to get out of the race to clear the way for a not-Romney candidate to take Romney on, one-on-one. Gingrich has failed to extend the courtesy of congratulating Romney on his recent victories, and did not deliver major remarks after tonight’s dismal results for him. He is sinking in national polls, and it’s possible that we will hear calls for Gingrich to drop out to clear the way for Santorum to take on Romney one-on-one. After the Charleston debate and the South Carolina primary result, who saw that coming?

Romney still leads in the delegate count but the race isn’t over. We knew that before voters in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado went out to vote.