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Midwestern Trifecta! Santorum Sweeps Three States
February 8, 2012, Matthew Cochrane


“At this time in 2007, Mike Huckabee was languishing in the polls at about 2-3%, exactly where Santorum currently resides in public opinion. Huckabee went on to finish second in the GOP primaries and was probably a close loss in South Carolina away from making the race awfully interesting. Could Santorum do the same?”

-         Matthew Cochrane, September 1, 2011
“Sometimes we forget that there are still plenty of conservative voters who have yet to tune in to the primary race, meaning there is still time for a candidate back in the pack to achieve frontrunner status, much like Huckabee did in 2008.”
-         Matthew Cochrane, November 22, 2011
“Gingrich’s unfavorable ratings are higher than any other GOP candidate in polls of Republican voters and general election voters alike. There is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that Gingrich is more electable in a general election matchup with Obama or possesses a more plausible path to the nomination than Santorum. Not only is Rick Santorum more conservative than Newt Gingrich, but he is also the more viable presidential candidate.”
-         Matthew Cochrane,  January 18, 2012
“I keep telling myself that the next contest will be decisive but, every time the next contest comes and goes, I feel like more has to play out before a candidate can claim they have this nomination in the bag. That might be because I’m having a hard time believing the GOP electorate really wants to choose between two candidates with so many inherent weaknesses and ideological shortcomings. Call me crazy, but I still think Santorum is going to get a second look by GOP voters before all is said and done.”
-         Matthew Cochrane, February 1, 2012
“Support for Santorum has been gaining momentum in the grassroots circles of Tea Party members and social conservatives…While Gingrich and Romney have been bombarding each other with negative ads over trivial matters, Santorum has stuck to clean attacks on records and ignoring personal attacks. Tonight, I believe this quiet momentum will manifest itself in a big way.”
-         Matthew Cochrane, February 7, 2012
There comes a time when all of us in the endorsing-longshot-conservative-presidential-candidates business, see our presidential candidates grow up before our eyes. It’s a bittersweet moment. Filled with pride, it still saddens us to realize when our little candidates are no longer exclusively ours, but everybody’s. Off they go into a cruel, hostile world, where you know you won’t be able to protect them anymore, yet also knowing that you have to let them go. Last night, was such a moment. Make me proud, Rick. Make us all proud.
In what can only be described as a stunningly triumphant night for the former Pennsylvania senator, Santorum swept to a victory in all three primary contests yesterday. In Missouri, he was expected to win. In Minnesota, a victory for Santorum was considered within reach. Instead
Missouri had looked for some time to be Santorum’s best shot.  Newt Gingrich chose not to get on the ballot, which made the state Santorum’s opportunity to fight Romney head-to-head.  What little polling existed showed Romney to be about ten to twelve points back, but Romney ended up losing by thirty points as Santorum claimed a 55% majority.  Santorum swept every county, including the presumed Romney stronghold of St. Louis, putting an exclamation point on Santorum’s ability to beat Romney.  He also beat Ron Paul in Minnesota by eighteen and Romney by 28, a state Romney carried easily in 2008, but with a low turnout in 2012 despite appearances from both candidates in the final few days.
However, while Santorum was expected to be competitive in Minnesota, Romney was widely expected to win Colorado.  Romney stayed in Denver for the caucus results, which differed sharply from his massive 42-point 2008 victory.  Instead, Romney ended up the night down five points in a race that also had a 10% dropoff in turnout from four years earlier.  Suddenly, Romney’s organization and his ability to simultaneously compete in multiple states looks a lot less formidable than it did a week ago, and this three-state loss — especially in Minnesota, where Romney finished third behind Ron Paul — makes Romney look a lot less inevitable.
 Let’s break this down…
The Winners: Rick Santorum, Rick Santorum, and Rick Santorum. Three victories equal three entries. With his blowout victory in the Show Me State, Santorum proved three things, reports the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake:
By winning in Missouri, Santorum proved three things:
1)    That Romney can lose
2)    That he can beat Romney head-to-head under the right set of circumstances
3) That this race isn’t yet over
Well, duh. This is stuff I’ve been saying for months. NRO’s Quinn Hillyer adds:
Santorum has run a campaign on a budgetary shoestring. He has been written off repeatedly by the pundit class and by the entire political establishment. He was supposed to appeal only to social conservatives. But he has triumphed tonight, after winning in Iowa, after winning four — count them, four — uphill races in purplish-blue Pennsylvania. It is high time that people start respecting Santorum’s political skills, his political appeal, and his heartfelt conservative principles.
Why did this all happen? Three reasons: 1) As I mentioned yesterday, Santorum is quietly gaining recognition as the only true conservative in the race. This is finally beginning to manifest in tangible ways; 2) Social issues are making the headlines. Consider, in the past week the top stories have been over Planned Parenthood funding, Obamacare mandates stripping religious freedom from Catholic churches and organizations, and a California appellate court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. With social issues ruling the day, conservatives turned to the candidate they trust the most on these issues; and 3) Santorum is starting to be recognized as just as viable general election candidate as any of the other choices. Earlier in the week, a Rasmussen poll found Santorum was the only GOP candidate leading Barack Obama in a head-to-head matchup.
While the delegates have yet to be committed from any of these three states (it’s complicated, but Santorum should be rewarded most of the delegates from Colorado and Minnesota as a result of last night’s victories), Santorum gains much-needed momentum leading to more volunteers, more money, and more exposure. With no more contests for three weeks, Santorum hopefully can turn this into more victories heading into Super Tuesday.
Here’s his victory speech from last night, before he knew he would win Colorado too.
For your enjoyment (and mine), here are a few more headlines and excerpts:
Michelle Malkin: Mitt Romney, tonight, you were Rick-rolled.
The Other McCain: This is kinda important…
Townhall: Santorum “shocked the political world” with a “stunning sweep.”
Michael Barone: Rick Santorum’s good night.
The Loser: Mitt Romney. Boston, we have a problem. NRO’s John Fund:
But what Romney won’t be able to explain away is just how much more poorly he did tonight in those three states than in his 2008 showing — when he lost the GOP nomination for president.
In 2008, Romney crushed John McCain in the Minnesota caucuses by nearly two to one. Tonight, he was sent into a humiliating third-place finish, trailing both Rick Santroum and Ron Paul. In Missouri, McCain held John McCain and Mike Huckabee to something close to a three-way tie, winning 29 percent of the vote. This year, with fewer opponents, he won only 25 percent. In Colorado, Romney outperformed John McCain by three to one in 2008.
As Fund points out, Romney certainly suffered a setback on his road to the nomination but it’s important to not get too carried away either. While Romney looks a lot less inevitable today than he did yesterday, he unquestionably still occupies the inside track. Whether the floor drops out on his support or whether Santorum can break out as the clear alternative to Romney remains to be seen. Until then, we’ll consider this a major setback but not a derailment. Here was his speech last night when I’m sure he still thought he was going to eke out a win in Colorado:
The Biggest Loser: Newt Gingrich. Was it really just two weeks ago when Jamie wrote:
Newt is projected to do better than Santorum going forward both in SC and FL…Newt has more money than Santorum and is more organized than Santorum…If you really want the primary race to be as hard for Mitt as possible and last as long as possible, then you think Santorum should drop out and SC voters should vote for Newt Gingrich.
I’m not trying to pick on Jamie; this represented the conventional wisdom at the time. (Yes, some of us were trying to debunk these myths). Leaving South Carolina, Gingrich was a political dynamo, an unstoppable juggernaut, causing some of us to momentarily lose hope and plummet to the depths of despair. Now he’s pulled a disappearing act. In the three contests last night Gingrich finished third in CO, fourth in MN and failed to qualify in Missouri. Ouch.
Other notable losers:
Donald Trump: His endorsement really helped Romney, eh?
Tim Pawlenty: Reduced to doing Romney’s dirty work, he looked petty attacking Santorum this week in Minnesota, criticizing him for voting to raise the debt ceiling while in Congress. The criticism carried more weight because everybody remembered Pawlenty making the same criticisms at the time…In the end, Pawlenty’s endorsement mattered so much that Romney lost what he easily won in 2008. And to think, I was considering voting for this guy last summer.
One more final note: CNN is out-hustling Fox News this election cycle. Karen and I spent the vast majority of the evening watching CNN over our preferred network because, while CNN was covering the contests all night, Fox News didn’t switch to special coverage until 11 p.m. EST, giving CNN a three hour head start. Same was true last Saturday night in Nevada. Fox News opted for their normal schedule, while CNN broke out all of the stops for election coverage.


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