Yesterday, Rick Santorum pulled off a spectacular upset. Practically left for dead after his Iowa win didn’t translate into further victories in primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Florida, Santorum won all three primary events hosted on Tuesday.
The wins in Colorado and Minnesota’s caucuses and Missouri’s nonbinding primary catapult Santorum back into the conversation for the GOP nomination, and signal a possible shake-up for the primary season ahead. Here are six takeaways from Santorum’s big night.
1. Santorum’s bragging rights
With these victories, Santorum has now won four states, a larger number than any of his competitors for the nomination. And while these states aren’t the biggest or most influential in the nomination process, losing them significantly hurts Santorum’s competition for the Republican nomination.
2. Mitt Romney: not so inevitable
Romney didn’t just lose these primary events — he lost badly. In Minnesota, he finished third, behind both Santorum and Ron Paul. In Colorado, a state that Romney won running away in 2008, he lost. The defeat highlighted Romney’s weakness with the conservative and Tea Party base that dominates the GOP in these states.
3. Romney: still the front-runner
Despite the losses, Romney’s path going forward is still a strong one. He’s expected to win easily in the next scheduled primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28, and the Super Tuesday primaries on March 6 heavily favor Romney’s large monetary advantage.
4. Gingrich: seriously damaged
Gingrich finished last among the four active candidates in Minnesota and third in Colorado. The conservative, evangelical, and Tea Party base that Gingrich had previously courted so well seems to have abandoned him for Santorum. All the momentum from Gingrich’s South Carolina win is gone, sucked out by relentless attacks by Romney and Romney’s Super PAC.
5. Where are the GOP voters?
Turn-out for these primaries has been well below that of the 2008 primaries. For instance, this year in Minnesota, around 50,000 people voted in the caucuses total. In 2008, John McCain had well over a million votes by himself. Republicans should be worried about an enthusiasm gap as November inches ever closer.
6. History hasn’t repeated itself
The race for the Republican nomination has fractured along geographic lines, rendering past performances by candidates, chiefly Romney, moot. As mentioned, Romney followed a resounding 2008 win in Colorado with a loss in 2012, and a 2008 victory in Minnesota with a distant third this year. Santorum apppears to have the advantage with conservative voters in the Midwest and heartland, Gingrich with traditional Southern voters,and Romney with the rest of the nation.
Whether Romney can turn it around and pick up some of those heartland and Southern states on Super Tuesday will give us a good indication of whether or not he will end up with the nomination.
For more information, check out this Yahoo! News article.
– Benjamin Nanamaker, InvestorPlace Money & Politics Editor
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
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