Last night’s results were a bit of a surprise to me, as it appears they were to a lot of the pundits too. Santorum winning all three contests? There was a collective “What the hell?” around the internet and TV last night, and there are some big implications for future contests despite the initial opinions of pundits that Tuesday wasn’t that important. Here are my thoughts:
Santorum just got a huge boost of momentum. Although Missouri’s primary was basically an expensive hollow gesture (http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/07/opinion/martin-missouri-primary/index.html), he racked up almost 140,000 votes there, more than twice that of Mitt Romney, and won every county. Every one. Okay, so he’s the only one that really campaigned there and Gingrich wasn’t even on the ballot, but it’s still a huge dose of campaign ad friendly momentum. There was always a chance he’d do well in Minnesota and he did a relatively good job campaigning there too, but his margin of victory over Ron Paul was bigger than anyone I know of predicted. And Colorado, well that just blew me out of the water. That was highly unexpected by most and a blow to Romney and Gingrich. Santorum got a 3 state (2 that actually matter) sweep tonight, and you better believe you’re going to be hearing about it for the next couple weeks.
Romney just took a big hit to the “inevitable candidate” image by not just losing one state to Santorum, but multiple ones, and he lost them pretty significantly overall. His campaign ad machine will no doubt take a renewed focus towards attacking his campaign in the upcoming Super Tuesday elections and beyond if things continue in this fashion, but he’s going to have to start increasing his overall likability and getting punches in without causing his negative numbers to skyrocket again. Although he is probably still the most likely candidate, I don’t think he’s going to coast to the nomination like so many expected and I think the ride there (if he gets there) may render him unelectable come November.
Paul fans are in trouble if they still think he can win the nomination. Ron Paul said before Florida that he was putting his focus into caucus states, and he has done a lot of campaigning in Nevada, and made some reasonable time investment in Colorado and Minnesota compared to the others. He even thought he was going to win Minnesota. Despite all that work, he hasn’t even come close to winning a state. Sure, his most loyal fans will point to Minnesota or New Hampshire and say “He placed second! That’s really good!”. Well, sure. But you’re not going to win a nomination that way, and those second place performances were his strongest by far to date. He also is highlighting that recent poll showing him placing second nationally behind Romney. I’d offer the sliding Romney likability numbers and his barrage on Gingrich as what you have to thank for that, not anything new that Dr. Paul has done. Yes, I realize there are a lot of primaries still to go, but Ron Paul is the only candidate that hasn’t been able to garner enough appeal and support to win a state so far and there’s no reason at this point to believe he will be able to in the future. He can’t seem to get any momentum going no matter how much time he spends in a state that should be friendly to his views. So my words of warning to Paul followers: Ron Paul is happy to continue this all the way to Tampa with the goal of showing up with as many delegates as possible and making some noise for his beliefs. If that’s what you want, continue to donate to his campaign and support that ideology. But you should know that it now appears he’s not expecting or planning to win the nomination or being the next President of the United States, so keep that in mind when voting.
Gingrich also had a disappointing night. Although he put little effort into the recent primaries and seems to be placing all his bets on Super Tuesday (a strategy I’m skeptical he has the ground game to pull off), he was at one point projected to potentially win Minnesota or place second, instead he came in fourth. He was supposed to be able to have a good showing in Colorado, and he’s nearly tied for last with Dr. Paul. His performance is below expectations but with how little effort he put into these states, it’s hard to say what this really means overall. So the question for Gingrich and his supporters now is: Can he pull off an aggressive nationwide campaign for Super Tuesday and grab the momentum back (and some all important delegates)? With Santorum given new life once again and Paul’s supporters firmly in their camp, it’s going to be difficult.
So instead of a one man race, or a two man race, we have three “front runners” and an overall four candidate circus underway. I hope you bought ringside tickets.
Feel free to comment or ask questions. Just no glitter bombs, please. (Seriously, what is that supposed to accomplish other than make our candidates look like vampires in a Twilight movie?)