Santorum Makes a Hat Trick But Where Are the Voters?

No doubt about it – former Senator Rick Santorum’s hat trick last night, winning the caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado, and the non-binding primary in Missouri, gave his previously lagging campaign a new boost of energy and raised serious questions, actually one serious question about Mitt Romney: Why are Republican voters reluctant to get on-board his bandwagon?

There are some answers to that question, which I will get to in a minute, but, the biggest news from last night was the turnout. It was low. Very low. Roughly 251,000 people in Missouri turned out to vote last night. In 2008, 588,720 Republicans voted in that state’s primary. In Colorado, about 67,000 Republican voters showed up at last night’s caucuses, but in 2008, 70,229 showed up. And in Minnesota, some 48,000 voters went to the caucuses last night compared to almost 63,000 in 2008. There is not that much enthusiasm for these candidates and that is potentially a big problem for the GOP come November.

Why could Romney not build on his previous momentum after wins in Florida and Nevada? In part because voters who have not yet had a chance to weigh in really don’t like the “inevitability” narrative that has been wrapped around Romney. Voters don’t want to be told that the race is really over before they have had a chance to vote. Romney has the resources to push back, of course, but if he had been planning on sailing into Super Tuesday next month with a string of victories in February at his back, he miscalculated badly. In all three states that voted yesterday, Romney did worse than he did in 2008. That said, Romney wants to keep Santorum in the race, dividing the conservative base.

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Newt Gingrich did not make much of an effort, or much of a showing, yesterday. He was not on the ballot in Missouri. He needs a home run at the next debate and a better showing in the next few races heading into Super Tuesday if he wants to have any shot of becoming the conservative alternative to Romney.

This race has had plenty of ups and downs already and, if last night’s results are any indication, there are more roller coaster moments to come.


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