Super Tuesday isn’t until March 6th, but Rick Santorum had a “Super Tuesday” last night. Santorum cruised to big victories in Minnesota and Missouri early in the night, but the big surprise came when he won Colorado.
Unlike in Iowa where Santorum only won by 34 votes, he had commanding victories in each state. He won Minnesota by 18 points. He carried every county in Missouri, garnering 55 percent of the vote. In Colorado, Santorum beat the heavily favored Mitt Romney by 5 points. Four years ago, Romney won Minnesota by 20 points and garnered 60 percent of the vote in Colorado.
It’s been over a month since Rick Santorum shocked the political pundits with a strong finish in Iowa that would ultimately become a win. Santorum toiled in Iowa for more than a year with little to show for his effort until the final days of the caucus campaign. In the end, he took home 25 percent of the vote and defeated Mitt Romney by a razor thin margin of 34 votes.
Nobody expected Santorum to do well in the New Hampshire primary that followed 10 days later, but he was expected to run strong in South Carolina. Santorum didn’t find success in South Carolina. Instead, it was Newt Gingrich who whipped South Carolinians into a frenzy with two stellar debate performances. Once again Santorum had to fight to remain relevant while Gingrich repeatedly called for his exit from the race.
Santorum was able to survive third and fourth place finishes in Florida and Nevada in large part because of strong debate performances. What’s remarkable is that Santorum was able keep his campaign afloat while Romney and Gingrich dominated the headlines. While the two of them tried to destroy each other with negatives ads, voters began to give Santorum another look, which he has now turned into three impressive wins.
Santorum’s victories last night will not immediately help him in the delegate count since none of the contests were binding, but what it does do is create a tremendous amount of momentum for Santorum. As we have seen, momentum has been a great equalizer in the race. It has allowed candidates like Santorum and Gingrich be able to compete with Romney despite being outspent by a wide margin. It will also help his campaign and Super PAC raise the resources necessary to compete on Super Tuesday on March 6th.
The Romney campaign made a concerted effort to downplay Tuesday’s contests in Minnesota and Missouri, but Santorum stunned them when he won Colorado, a state Romney seemed confident that he would win.
Despite what the Romney campaign is trying to spin, last night’s contests were important. First, Romney won both Colorado and Minnesota in 2008. Surely he was appreciative of those victories back them. His inability to win Minnesota after winning the state over John McCain by 20 points has to be of some concern to his campaign. Combine his Minnesota loss with the fact that 8000 fewer people voted for him in Nevada this year than voted for him in 2008, and it seems like Romney is not appealing to same people he did four years ago.
Besides the results of the Maine Caucuses, which began on Saturday, there will not be another contest for another three weeks. That’s good news for Santorum who can use the time to campaign and raise money for the next round of contests. Santorum’s big night is bad news for Newt Gingrich, who now must find a way to gain momentum before Super Tuesday.
The race for the Republican nomination changed last night. Romney still has an advantage, but it’s based entirely on the amount of money he and his Super PAC have been able to raise. What Romney lacks is a connection to grassroots activists in the Republican Party. Romney’s instinct will be to attack Santorum, but what he really needs to do is reach out to the base of the party.
If Romney refuses to do that, Santorum and the other candidates in the race will continue to give Romney fits. One of them might not be able to get the 1,144 delegates required to secure the nomination, but the three of them might be able to prevent Romney from getting there.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com