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Santorum Sweep

Posted By Ryan Mauro On February 8, 2012 @ 12:50 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 37 Comments

The contest for the Republican presidential nomination has, yet again, taken a surprising turn. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum won the caucuses in Missouri and Minnesota yesterday and topped the night off with a come-from-behind surprise victory in Colorado.

Mitt Romney lost Missouri in 2008 and did not make a play for the caucus, which isn’t awarding any delegates. Newt Gingrich failed to make it onto the ballot, leaving Rick Santorum and Ron Paul to battle it out. Santorum prevailed, winning Missouri with 55% of the vote. Romney came in second with 25%. Ron Paul finished with 12%. This was not a surprising victory, as Santorum was leading in the polls there.

The media assumed that Romney would win Colorado and focused on Minnesota. Romney won the state by 19% in 2008, but the polls showed Santorum with a comfortable lead as the caucus took place. At the time of this article’s publication, Santorum was shown winning Minnesota with 45%. Ron Paul is in second with 27%, Romney has 17% and Gingrich has 11%. If these totals hold, this will mean that Santorum rose from a 2-point lead on February 4 in Public Policy Polling’s survey to a 9-point lead on February 6 and ultimately won by a whopping 18%.

The media thought Santorum’s landslide victory in Minnesota would be the story of the night, but they were wrong. Romney won Colorado in 2008 by 42%. The polls consistently showed him with double-digit leads. The last poll had him ahead by 10%. Amazingly, Santorum pulled off an upset and won a solid victory in Colorado. With 99% of districts reporting, Santorum had attained 40% of the vote, while Romney had 35%, Gingrich had 13% and Paul had 12%. This is a remarkable feat for a candidate who was dismissed as he languished in the low single digits for the majority of the campaign.

Santorum gave his victory speech after the results in Missouri and Minnesota were announced. He likely didn’t think he’d win Colorado at that point. Trumpeting his electability, Santorum proudly said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t stand here to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”

He made the case that last night’s contests were the most reflective of what the general election campaign will look like. Mitt Romney was unable to overwhelm his opponents with immense finances and superior organization, Santorum argued. He made the point that President Obama’s organization and fundraising will outmatch his Republican opponent, and so Romney will not be able to count on those advantages to win. Santorum argued that the only way Obama could be beaten is if a sharp contrast is drawn and that he is the best candidate to do that.

Ron Paul, who spoke shortly after Santorum, was extremely excited at his “very strong second place” showing and reminded viewers that his campaign is focused on winning delegates. He refused to back down on foreign policy and civil liberties, ridiculing the Patriot Act and overseas wars. He said that the U.S. Constitution only allows gold and silver to be legal tender and pointed out that a poll shows him in second place nationally.

Mitt Romney congratulated Santorum on his two victories before the Colorado results came in. He emphasized that he is not a Washington insider, hinting at Santorum and Gingrich. In recent days, the Romney campaign criticized Santorum for his use of earmarks, and his speech last night reflected this shift. For the most part, however, Romney stuck to his general election theme, drawing on quotes from Obama on how to “measure progress.” Romney gave a series of statistics to argue that, according to Obama’s own definition of “progress,” he has failed.

Newt Gingrich did not give a speech, but he did hold a feisty press conference after Romney’s victory in Nevada on February 4. He argued that he can win enough delegates to match Romney by April 3 when Texas holds its primary. He took a sharply negative tone towards Romney, calling him a “George Soros-approved” candidate that is running the “most dishonest, dirty campaign I’ve seen in American politics.” Gingrich made it clear that he will go after Romney hard during their next debate on February 22.

The next significant event comes on February 11 when the results from Maine’s caucus will be released. Romney is widely expected to win there, followed by Ron Paul. However, media fanfare will be consumed with Santorum’s comeback and Romney won’t get a bounce in the polls. After that comes the February 22 debate.

The next contests come on February 28 when Arizona and Michigan hold their primaries. In 2008, Romney lost Arizona to Senator John McCain by 13%, but he currently leads by 28% in the RealClearPolitics poll average. Romney won Michigan, where his father was governor, by 9% in 2008 and currently leads by 10% in the poll average. It is assumed that Romney will win both states, but last night’s results showed us how unpredictable the 2012 Republican presidential nomination race is.

The nature of the race is leading to increasing speculation that Romney could head into the convention with only a plurality of delegates, leading to a brokered convention. It is too early to make a prediction of that kind, but with a race this volatile, anything can happen.

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