Has the conventional wisdom been turned on its head again? Or is this yet one more little blip in the hugely funded and professionally organized former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s “inevitable” march to the 2012 Republican nomination?
And was there a big message to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party again: that once more social issues can fuel and excite and outrage GOPers issues stemming from the legal status of gay marriage coming the forefront during an election year(once again) and administration rule sparking such an uproar among Catholics that Obama political maven David Axelrod is forced to jump in and attempt to do damage control?
The likely answers: Romney is facing a massive case of buyer’s remorse but the reality is as TMV’s Shaun Mullen notes in detail here: Romney cannot close the deal. Conservatives don’t want to hold their noses and vote for him (yet).
You’ve heard of “baseless allegations?”
Romney is proving to be a “baseless” candidate.
And Obama and the Dems? Once again it seems a hot button issue is being served to Republicans and if Obama tries to limit damage he could face howls from his party’s left — that has historically has made sitting home to punish their own party and hand over power to Republicans something of a fine art.
Here is some other reaction to last night’s vote from news organzations, weblogs and Twitter:
Update: Networks projecting Santorum the winner in Missouri.
And he’s leading early in Minnesota.
What did I tell ya? Santorum’s got game.
Now, he needs your help to unite the Right.
With victories in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, Santorum can now boast four states to Romney’s three, as well as strength in that romanticized “heartland”. Romney’s victories suddenly look less impressive — New Hampshire (home field-ish advantage), Nevada (Mormons), and Florida (that one was legit).
Now in a twist of bizarreness, no delegates were awarded tonight, so Santorum doesn’t get to boast any. But, he has decisively laid claim to Not-Mitt-Romney status. Gingrich was a joke, getting zero percent of the vote in Missouri, 11 percent in Minnesota, and 13 percent in Colorado. He’s finished.
Ron Paul was also a joke. His big strategy of focusing on the caucus states netted him nothing — a pathetic showing in Nevada, 12 percent in Colorado, and just 27 percent in Minnesota. Meanwhile, Santorum’s 55 percent in Missouri was bigger than any victory claimed by Romney thus far.
So what comes next? Expect the GOP establishment to rake Santorum over the coals with an 8-figure negative ad campaign in Arizona (2/28), Michigan (2/28), and the Super Tuesday states (a week later). The attack will have something to do with earmarks, which quite frankly, doesn’t seem like the kind of thing these GOP voters care about right now. They want a culture war, not a budget one, and only one candidate is left that can wage it.
—The Canadian Press (appeared in Winnipeg Free Press):
The results show Romney still has a major problem on his hands connecting with the party’s base, who clearly harbour serious misgivings about the front-runner. But he wasn’t the only one rebuked by Santorum’s triumphs in the socially conservative Midwest — the results suggest the one-time senator may be nudging Gingrich out of the way as the favoured candidate of far-right conservatives.
The next primaries are not until Feb. 28. Until then, Santorum will argue his strong showing in the socially conservative Midwest proves he’s the best conservative alternative to Romney.
—Talking Points Memo:
Nonetheless, Santorum’s success in the three states shines a spotlight on continued concerns among Republican voters about Romney’s candidacy. It also presents a challenge to Gingrich, who was hoping his South Carolina victory last month would put him on the path to consolidating the anti-Romney vote. Both Romney rivals have made the case that there is a conservative majority prepared to unite against the former governor if the field is narrowed to one alternative option — Missouri may be the purest test case yet for that theory. And Santorum won it with a staggering 57% of the vote to Romney’s 26%.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” Santorum said in his speech. “I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”
Santorum still contrasted himself strongly with Romney, saying his rival held the “same position” as Obama on health care, cap and trade, and Wall Street bailouts. In a jab at Romney’s campaign tactics, he noted that Romney has fared worse in states where he hasn’t been able to blanket the airwaves with big money negative ads. Santorum will almost surely face a barrage of these attacks in the next states as Romney looks to regain his footing.
Indeed, one of the earliest signs of Santorum’s momentum this week came via the Romney campaign. While public polling was limited, Romney’s staff abruptly shifted its focus from Newt Gingrich to Santorum this week, who they attacked in press releases, robocalls, and interviews, mostly over his support for earmarks as a Congressman and Senator. The last-minute offensive recalled the final days before the South Carolina primary, where the Romney campaign realized too late that Gingrich was surging and couldn’t bring him down quickly enough to win the state.
Santorum’s strong performances raised new doubts about Romney’s ability to win over the GOP’s conservative base.
Santorum called his wins a victory for “conservatives and Tea Party people” who are “building the base of the Republican Party,” then belittled Romney’s campaign for what he said was its chief attributes, mocking, “I’ve got the most money and the best organization.”
Romney, appearing in Colorado, told a crowd, “This was a good night for Rick Santorum. But I expect to become our nominee with your help.”
Missouri’s 52 delegates won’t be awarded until March, so last night’s primary vote there was effectively a straw poll.
But by winning more than 100,000 votes in a swing-state battleground, Santorum seized the spotlight and showed strength in an important industrial region.
Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, campaigned for Romney there, to no avail .
Santorum blanketed all three states yesterday after bailing out of the Jan. 31 Florida primary early and spending more than 20 days in the heartland.
Gingrich abandoned the field there, spending yesterday stumping in Ohio, which doesn’t vote until Super Tuesday on March 6.
—John Avlon writing on The Daily Beast:
This is the story of Newt and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
It is a tale of two caucus states where Newt was schooled by Rick Santorum in the ways of social conservative voters and one state where he failed to even make the primary ballot.
Worst of all, it was the day when Newt’s narrative of a two-man race collapsed.
Because right now, angry and almost broke, Newt is no longer the leading candidate to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. That man is Rick Santorum. And what makes Gingrich especially grumpy is that the man he is losing to was once just a pimply backbencher in the 1994 Republican Revolution.
After winning South Carolina, Newt spent all his money trying to win Florida and took $15 million dollars of incoming fire from Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum saved his money and went to Minnesota.
Missouri’s primary race was an expensive beauty pageant with no delegates at stake. But Newt’s organizational failure allowed Rick Santorum a chance to test the fantasy both men have been indulging—a mano a mano contest with Mitt. And without a second social conservative in the race, Rick Santorum beat Mitt handily in this particular popularity contest. It is, after all, John Ashcroft’s home state.
Even in Colorado Newt couldn’t catch a break. After running neck and neck all night with Romney, Santorum finally won that contest.
—Democratic strategist Paula Begala (who sounds positively giddy over the results):
Mitt Romney didn’t just lose. He lost to Muhammad, Jugdish, Sidney, and Clayton—the archetypal losers from Animal House.
The story of Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado is the stunning weakness of Mitt Romney.
Rick Santorum’s impressive victory in the nonbinding Missouri “beauty contest” began an ugly night for Romney. Mitt, who garnered 29 percent in Missouri in 2008, limped in with 25 percent—less than half the votes Santorum earned.
Then came Minnesota, where Romney lost again. Big time. He won the state four years ago, earning 41 percent. But tonight, with 45 percent of precincts reporting, he had won only 17 percent, for a stunning third-place finish behind Santorum and Ron Paul.
Finally—and perhaps most embarrassingly of all—is Colorado. Romney romped there in 2008 with 60 percent. This year, not so much. With 11 percent of the votes counted, he’s tied with Santorum at 37 percent. Even if Romney ekes out a victory, it will be a huge comedown from four years ago.
Romney has more money, more national experience, more consultants, more staff. Heck, he even has better hair. His super PAC outspent Santorum’s by a 40-to-1 margin. Forty to one. And yet Mitt Romney lost. He lost to a guy who lost his home state by 18 points the last time he was on the ballot there. There’s a technical term in political consulting for a performance like that: it’s called sucking. If Romney can’t beat Rick Santorum, he needs to find another party to run in.
The lesson from Missouri, as Santorum’s talented admaker, John Brabender, told The New York Times’s John Harwood: “in a clean one-on-one with Romney, we beat him.”
While the Romney campaign could argue that the losses were superficial, his rivals will pounce on his poor performance as a repudiation of his candidacy by the GOP’s conservative wing, particularly in Minnesota, which Romney won four years ago.
Romney expects a strong showing in Michigan, where he was born and where Romney’s father served as governor. His campaign hopes to put to rest doubts on whether he can do well in the Rust Belt.
Yet, in Michigan Romney is likely to face questions about his opposition to the government’s bailout of the state’s major economic engine: the auto industry. The bailout has been critical for the sector’s rebound and adding of jobs in the past two years.
Super Tuesday is expected to play a pivotal role in determining the GOP’s presidential nominee. Questions about Romney’s ability to consolidate a sturdy base are sure to dog him in Bible Belt states such as Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Gingrich’s home state of Georgia, which has the largest delegate prize on March 6.
At stake in the 10 states will be 437 delegates – nearly two-fifths of the 1,144 needed to secure the nomination. That puts a premium on organization, where Romney has shown himself to be strongest.
“The thing that Romney’s got going for him is that he’s planned for a long campaign. He’s got the money,’’ said John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, another Super Tuesday state. “A tough battle gets him ready for November.’’
Nevertheless, the symbolic value of winning will undoubtedly help build momentum and could aid fund-raising for a campaign like Santorum’s that has operated on a shoestring budget. More importantly, it could help diminish the aura of invincibility and inevitability around the Romney campaign.
Rick Santorum’s unlikely sweep of three Republican contests on Tuesday punctured the aura of inevitability surrounding Mitt Romney’s claim to the nomination and nursed the niggling perception that the frontrunner can’t close the deal with conservatives.
Romney won Minnesota and Colorado in his 2008 presidential bid. On Tuesday, he came in third and second place, respectively. He also lost to Santorum in Missouri.
For Santorum, the trifecta reaped bragging rights but no convention delegates, and it may provide only a fleeting burst of money and momentum for his shoestring campaign. For Romney, who ignored Missouri and downplayed Minnesota, the losses are probably little more than speed bumps on his road to the nomination. He is the only GOP contender with the money and organization demanded of a national campaign that could drag on for months.
But the results on Tuesday give his rivals an opening to keep contesting the nomination and fodder to President Obama’s re-election campaign as it seeks to dampen enthusiasm for its likely opponent. The results also showed that the conservative grassroots are pulling the strings in this race, despite efforts by the Republican establishment to annoint Romney.
There are still a few twists and turns left in this primary.
“Tonight’s victory should put to bed the idea that the Republican nomination for Mitt Romney is inevitable,” Stuart Roy, an advisor to a super-PAC backing Santorum, said after the former Pennsylvania senator was declared the winner in Missouri.
—Red State’s Eric Erickson has a post that needs to be read in full. Here are a few big chunks of it:
Mitt Romney had a horrible, horrible night. Early yesterday, Mitt Romney’s campaign called Missouri a “beauty contest” and said to focus on Colorado. We did. Wow.
I’ve said since Sunday that yesterday would be the first day of voting that Mitt Romney’s “poor” comment to Soledad O’Brien would have an impact. It typically takes a week for comments like that to be digested by voters. Six days after Romney opened his mouth, Rick Santorum swept the night.
From Missouri to Minnesota to Colorado the Republican electorate sent a very clear signal — they want conviction over electability. They do not like Mitt Romney. They see Santorum as authentic. They see Mitt Romney as a fraud. Rick Santorum swept the races. Romney, the front runner, got crushed by conservatives.
The pattern has held up from Iowa to South Carolina to Florida to Nevada to last night. In every county that saw increased turn out, Not Romney won. In counties with decreased turnout, Romney won most often, but not always.
The real winner last night is CPAC – the conservative political action conference….
….But what of Romney vs. Santorum? My prediction is that Romney has nothing to lose and will go negative. He will suddenly become as noxious as his supporters are on twitter and in the Washington Post. It will backfire on him. He will seem Newtish and Newt’s recent complaints about Romney’s negativity will be looked at anew.
Gingrich is a big loser after last night. But I think the untold story is just how terrible Ron Paul did. He had a caucus strategy that has failed across the board. He has won no states. His strategy is failing him.
“I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” said an ebullient Santorum. “I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”
We’ll see. It’s a long road to 1,144 delegates. And if there’s one lesson from the 2012 Republican race so far it’s that things change, often quickly.
Although the media has made much of Gingrich’s two campaign resurrections, there’s another candidate who started out up front and has returned there after each of the others fell. That’s Romney, the only GOP candidate with a national organization, fundraising operation, executive experience and the valuable lessons of a previous Republican effort behind him. Like four of the last six presidents, he’s a former governor.
Nevada’s results Saturday showed Romney’s standing improving among tea party supporters, for instance, and others where he’s not previously been strong. Much of that could be based on the perception of his ability to defeat the Democrat in the White House.
But no doubt Tuesday’s results will feed the ongoing chatter about that. If Romney can’t beat a defeated U.S. senator, how’s he supposed to win come November? Answering that will be Romney’s challenge for the rest of this month.
Romney’s campaign is well-funded and has already organized a solid ground game in states weeks and months out, while his rivals have been limiting to focusing on states voting in the immediate future. But Santorum’s triple win on Tuesday was expected to spark an influx of donations that could help him close the gap, and earn him a renewed look from the media.
Anticipating a defeat in at least one of the three contests, Romney’s campaign earlier on Tuesday downplayed expectations and pointed out that none of the contests held were binding on delegates.
But those efforts were unlikely to be enough to quell speculation that he is losing steam just as his rivals are discovering renewed strength.
Romney had been leading in the polls in Colorado and campaigned heavily there, even while Santorum was focused on Missouri, where the race was less crowded because Newt Gingrich was not on the ballot. Romney also had reason to believe he would do well in Minnesota, which he won in the 2008 GOP primary.
For Romney, his poor showing Tuesday raised anew the question that has dogged his candidacy all along: Can the relatively moderate, former Massachusetts governor become an acceptable standard-bearer of a party that is increasingly dominated by evangelical conservatives and tea party activists who have long been skeptical of Romney?
After big wins in Florida and Nevada, Romney had hoped to extend his winning streak as he moved to strengthen his claim to the mantle of presumptive nominee. But in recent days, he was clearly bracing for losses on Tuesday.
Romney enjoyed strong establishment backing in Minnesota, with the vocal support of former governor Tim Pawlenty, yet he trailed not just Santorum but also Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), finishing a distant third.
– It was a very bad night for Mitt Romney Tuesday, no matter which way you sliced it, another harsh blow undermining his argument that he is the strongest Republican candidate for president.
It happened in Iowa on Jan. 3. It happened Jan. 22 in South Carolina. And on Tuesday night, Romney was again rejected by a large portion of the Republican electorate, this time in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.
…But to Romney’s chagrin, Santorum’s largely symbolic victories Tuesday will bring him grassroots enthusiasm and money. And Santorum already has at least one wealthy benefactor willing to give big money to a super PAC supporting him. As Santorum spoke, billionaire investor and businessman Foster Friess stood behind him, reminding those who noticed of the $331,000 he gave the Red, White and Blue Fund even before Santorum narrowly beat Romney in Iowa on Jan. 3.
Santorum’s big wins also injects real importance and potential for great political theater at a large gathering of conservative activists in Washington on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Santorum, Romney and Gingrich will all speak Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and the 10,000 or so attendees will take part in a straw poll, the winner of which will be announced on Saturday.
The results were nonetheless surprising. It’s not just that Santorum won but that he won in blowout fashion. In Missouri, which Silver reckoned to be “the closest contest, but probably leans slightly toward Mr. Santorum,” he won by a ridiculous 30 point margin.
I’m not sure what’s more surprising here: That Santorum, who most had written off, won all three contests (and thus has as many wins as Romney and Gingrich combined)? That Romney finished so far back in all three? Or that Gingrich, who the media had positioned as the conservative alternative to the establishment Romney, finished dead last in all three races–even behind Ron Paul.
My guess is that this will give all of us something to talk about for a couple of days but really won’t change anything. Santorum still doesn’t have any money or organization and it’s going to be nearly impossible for him to compete on Super Tuesday.
—Israel Matzav has some fun, suggesting Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey has a lot to do with Santorum’s win:
On Monday, I reported that Ed Morrissey had endorsed Rick Santorum for the Republican nomination for President. On Tuesday, Santorum – whose only previous win wasn’t even acknowledged until days later – swept the caucuses in Minnesota, Missouri (Hat Tip: Memorandum) and Colorado (Hat Tip: Memeorandum). This is from the Minnesota and Missouri link:
Santorum solidly defeated Romney in Minnesota and Missouri, and he narrowly edged the former Massachusetts governor in Colorado, according to state GOP officials.
The victories mark a sharp turnaround for the former Pennsylvania senator, whose candidacy had been sputtering after he failed to capitalize on his narrow win in Iowa last month. Santorum’s wins across the Midwest Tuesday could bestow new legitimacy on his insurgent efforts and boost his fundraising in the critical period before next month’s major contests.
Santorum now appears to pose a more serious threat not only to Romney, but also to Gingrich, who had been positioning himself as the logical alternative to Romney.
Santorum, who faded quickly after his narrow win in Iowa last month, now has his best and almost certainly last chance to show that he can compete at the same level as Romney and Newt Gingrich. In a month his campaign hoped to use as an opportunity to outflank Gingrich on the right and establish himself as the primary alternative to Romney, Santorum is on his way to accomplishing both goals.
There is a catch, however: Santorum still needs to prove is that he can hold and sustain political momentum on a grand scale. The trick is maintaining his forward motion as the primary process expands to truly national proportions and stretches Santorum’s already-taxed resources and organization thinner than ever. Republican strategist Nick Ryan, who steers the pro-Santorum super PAC, the Red White & Blue Fund, said Santorum’s priorities must be twofold: money and discipline.
“He needs to capitalize on [his victories] from a fundraising perspective and I anticipate that he will do that,” Ryan said. “And they need to be methodical and disciplined about how they play. I’d be very, very careful about Michigan and Arizona [the next two primaries] because they are just cash-suckers.”
By the time the throng of primaries on March 6 rolls around, Ryan said, Santorum should “be able to say that you are going toe to toe with Romney on Super Tuesday.”
It’s not only in financial terms that Santorum has to be disciplined – he has critical choices when it comes to his message and how to engage his opponents. Here are five ways smart Republicans think he can exploit his new opening in the race:
Be the wonk in the field
It’s taken Santorum awhile to win over rank-and-file Republican primary voters. But as they’ve come around to liking him, so have members of the party elite: the editors of right-leaning magazines, former congressional aides and party functionaries, Washington insiders who have been struck by his fluency in the language of policymaking.
On a night that highlighted conservatives’ lingering chilliness toward Romney, the former Massachusetts governor did grab a consolation prize. With Gingrich showing no inclination to bow out anytime soon, Santorum’s win ensures the conservative vote will remain split between the two candidates for the foreseeable future. Romney still boasts a yawning lead in delegates, cash and organization. But he will be forced in the coming weeks to fend off a barrage of attacks from a resurgent Santorum, who will tell Republicans that they can’t relinquish their core arguments against Barack Obama by tapping a standard-bearer who can be tied to the President’s signature policies.
In the meantime, Santorum’s task is to bottle the magic of Tuesday’s wins and convince conservatives that he’s not sticking around just to nettle Romney as the latter marches toward Tampa. “I don’t stand here claiming to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” the former Senator said. “I claim to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”
Santorum’s victories, his first since the opening Iowa caucuses, were sure to energize his followers, boost his fundraising and ensure that he’ll stay in the race at least through the Super Tuesday contests on March 6. It bolsters his argument that he, not former House speaker Newt Gingrich, should be seen as the strongest challenger to Romney.
For Romney, the setbacks were likely to raise questions about his claim of inevitability — he had targeted only Obama on the stump Tuesday, as though the GOP nomination already was his — and carried a particular sting in Minnesota, a state he decisively won four years ago.
“I think the big story coming out tonight is going to be it’s very hard for the elite media to portray Romney as the inevitable nominee,” Gingrich told CNN from Ohio. “After tonight, you’ll see this is a wide-open race.”
Even before the returns came in, his campaign had sent out a pre-emptive “reality check,” downplaying the importance of the contests and touting Romney’s organizational and financial edge in the primaries and caucuses that follow.
“John McCain lost 19 states in 2008, and we expect our opponents to notch a few wins too,” the memo by Romney political director Rich Beeson read. “But unlike the other candidates, our campaign has the resources and organization to keep winning over the long run.”
Update: That Pawlenty endorsement is sure paying off, isn’t it?
Update: Nota bene–
Colorado is a non-binding precinct caucus. Their 36 delegates will be chosen at district conventions held between March 31 – April 13, 2012, and at the state convention on April 14, 2012.
Minnesota is a non-binding precinct caucus. Their 40 delegates will be chosen at district conventions held between April 14 – 21, 2012, and at a state convention on May 5, 2012. Delegates are not bound unless the state convention passes a resolution to bind the delegates.
Romney losing Colorado puts a dent in his fender, but, the state’s actual delegates to the RNC convention won’t be chosen until April. The same goes for Minnesota. That’s well after the March 6 Super Tuesday primaries, during which nearly 500 delegates will be at stake across 10 states. That day is a big test for all of the remaining candidates — widespread geography, will require big money, serious organization, strategic thinking, etc. This day is not that day.
There’s no “PJM narrative” at work here, folks. Obama administration delenda est is my motto. I’d root for the Sweet Meteor of Death if it would promise to repeal ObamaCare and appoint strict constructionists to the courts.
It is the combination of three losses, that few had foreseen, which makes the past twenty-four hours the most significant day in the campaign so far. Colorado, which neighbours Utah with its huge Mormon population, had gone to Romney with more than 60% of the caucus votes in 2008 and it was almost inconceivable that he would struggle. As it was, he secured less than 35% of the votes even though he had built the biggest ground operation of any of the contenders.
A big problem from all of this is that it undermines two key elements that were part of the overall Romney proposition: that his nomination was inevitable, and that he was the “most electable” of the contenders. A vote share down to 17% in one of the states hardly suggests electability.
A bigger challenge for him is that a new narrative is developing: one that suggests the only way Mitt Romney can win is by bombarding his opponents with negative advertisements.
For Rick Santorum this was a stunning night and will underpin his efforts to raise the money and build an organisation to win the battles ahead. He had been getting the best favourability ratings of any of the contenders but had struggled to convert that goodwill among Republican supporters into votes. That has all changed.
His big challenge now is dealing with the expected massive negative onslaught from the Romney campaign and associated organisations. Romney must still be favourite to be the nominee, but he’s not safe any more.
THIS ROUNDUP IS BEING DONE AS YOU READ IT. REFRESH TMV OFTEN TO SEE THE LATEST. WHEN THE ROUNDUP IS COMPLETED THIS PARAGRAH WILL VANISH.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.