Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Live-blogging the 2012 primary/caucus votes in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado: Santorum surging, Newt collapsing, Romney hanging on


9:45 pm - Yes, more live-blogging, as for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada. I'm late getting to it because I'm as congested as Rick's sexual repression and have a headache the size of Newt's ego, and with such ailments I care as much this evening about the Republican nomination for president as Mitt does about the poor (or as Ron cares about government). But the show must go on, as they say...

Okay, okay, okay...
Just a little pinprick
There's be no more ahhhhhh...
But you may feel a little sick

9:51 pm - With caucuses (caucuseses?) in Minnesota and Colorado and a non-binding primary in Missouri, it's looking like a big night for Santorum.

9:53 pm - Here's where things stand right now: 

Missouri (37% reporting): Santorum 55, Romney 25, Paul 12, Gingrich not on the ballot. (Results here. It's been called for Santorum, as you might expect.)

Minnesota (13% reporting): Santorum 43, Paul 27, Romney 17, Gingrich 12. (Results here.)

It's really early in Colorado (just 1% reporting), but it's Santorum 50, Gingrich 21, Romney 19, Paul 10. (Results here.)

10:03 pm - Why is Missouri holding a non-binding vote? ABC News explains:

Thanks to in-state political disputes and a slow-moving legislature, today's Missouri presidential primary has been reduced to an afterthought.

Most presidential candidates have ignored the contest, which will not affect any of the state's 52 GOP delegates. Newt Gingrich will not be on the ballot, having made no attempt to qualify. Anyone looking for competition between the race's two poll leaders should look elsewhere.

The state party, meanwhile, didn't even want the primary to happen.

That's because today's vote won't be the main event: Missouri will hold caucuses on March 17, where voters will begin the process of selecting and allocating delegates. Today's primary is a vestige of state law that Missouri's GOP-controlled legislature failed to change.

Consequently, Rick Santorum is the only presidential candidate paying much attention today.

In other words, The Show-Me State is showing us how ridiculous it is. Or, rather, the state's Republicans are showing us how ridiculous they are.

And yet, the vote certainly means something. Santorum may be the only one who cared enough to pay much attention, but a "win" there today will boost his credibility as a serious alternative to Romney, particularly with Gingrich not on the ballot and not likely to do well in Minnesota and Colorado. And, indeed, the story will be that he won. A three-for-three sweep today would certainly shift the narrative significantly.

10:09 pm - And so, as you can imagine, the Romney campaign has tried to lower expectations:

"Of course, there is no way for any nominee to win first place in every single contest -- John McCain lost 19 states in 2008, and we expect our opponents to notch a few wins too," Romney's political director, Rich Beeson, wrote in a memo for reporters.

True enough, but Romney won both Minnesota and Colorado in 2008, when he was the leading conservative alternative to McCain, and losses in one or both would slow down his momentum, if not grind it to a halt, not least because the media are likely to start talking up Santorum again. (The media want drama. We all do. Just not Romney.) And losses tonight, two or three of them, would be a reminder of just how unpopular he is with much, if not most, of the Republican Party. Sure, these are caucuses that tend to attract hardcore partisans, that is, voters more favorable to the socially conservative Santorum and the libertarian Paul than to the more establishmentarian Romney, but a genuinely strong frontrunner wouldn't be performing so weakly at this stage of the race.

10:17 pm - Ah, Richard is joining us. Good evening, my friend.

RKB: The CNN pundit panel is suggesting that the reason Santorum is doing well is that Romney and Gingrich are beating the shit out of each other, leaving Santorum relatively unscathed.

It was also suggested that the CNN interview in which Romney said that he wasn't worried about the poor is having a significant impact. It's hard to know what is doing the damage, but I'm going with the thought that Romney is a very unattractive character and people don't like being told that he's the inevitable nominee. It's a revolt of sort, is my guess.

10:18 pm - And more:

RKB: If Romney loses Colorado, I think things may actually change. Romney desperately needs both Gingrich and Santorum to stay in. If either is allowed to go one-on-one with Romney, this could get interesting.

However unpalatable Santorum may be to the mushy middle of the electorate because of his extreme social conservatism, he's been coming across as the only candidate with any real integrity. Hard to believe. Another sign of how weak the field is.

This dynamic is great for Obama. We are now going to be talking about how weak Romney is instead of Obama's flip-flop on Super PACs and his battle with the Catholic church, etc. Maybe another couple of months of putting off having the GOP focus on Obama.

10:24 pm - While Romney emerged from Florida and then Nevada as the clear frontrunner and likely nominee, his overall national support has actually declined over the past month according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll. He's now at just 29, eight points ahead of second-place Paul, with Gingrich at 19 and Santorum at 18 (surging up from 13). Clearly, Romney remains an extremely weak frontrunner. Just imagine how a strong conservative candidate (what we thought Perry might be, or even Pawlenty) would be doing. What's keeping Romney afloat and in the lead is not just money and organization but the weakness of the rest of the field.

10:48 pm - No surprise. Santorum's got Minnesota, too. With 35% reporting, he's up 46 to 27 over Paul, with Romney at 16 and Gingrich, poor old Gingrich, at 11.

10:50 pm - Very close in Colorado. With 11% reporting, Romney and Santorum are tied at 37 (359 to 357 for Romney), with Gingrich at 17 and Paul at 9.

Need I mention once again that these caucuses are decided by a tiny sliver of the electorate? They may reflect the sort of town-square democracy that works, more or less, in small city-states, such as there used to be in the ancient world and in Jefferson's imaginings, but they're not exactly democratic in any modern sense.

10:56 pm - With Santorum speaking, let me turn it over to Richard:

RKB: Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but is it possible that Santorum will be perceived as "presidential" enough for the GOP base?

The other thing is that Santorum will be able to raise some serious money in the short term.

I'm watching Santorum speak now. Success in politics is a funny thing, Presenting strength and graciousness in victory is a particular kind of skill. We'll see how Santorum does.

He's reaching out to real conservatives in his speech. Very interesting. In a lot of ways he is a real Tea Party candidate. He could carry the spirit of the 2010 midterms better than the rest. He's going with the right-wing populist thing. This could work in the short term.

Yes, Santorum is the real anti-Romney. Gingrich tried to paint himself as a populist against Romney, but that was a joke. Santorum is a better fit for this argument.

11:33 pm - Santorum's opened up a solid lead in Colorado. With 28% reporting, he's up 41 to 31 over Romney. But these being caucuses, the votes are coming in irregularly from different parts of the state at different times. Santorum's doing well in the southern and eastern parts of the state, while Romney's doing well in the Denver suburbs, but there's nothing yet from Denver (where Romney should do very well) or El Paso County (Colorado Springs).

RKB: I like Ari Fleischer's comment that Santorum looked and sounded like an excited school boy in his speech and not at all presidential. I think that's about right. However well Santorum did today, he's got a long way to go before he looks the part. My guess is that it won't happen.

11:37 pm - The sweater vests don't help. He looks (and sounds) more Flanders-ish than presidential.

11:39 pm - And yet, there's no denying he's come a long, long way. Think back to when he got crushed in the 2006. It looked like the self-righteous, moralizing extremist was done, and I remember celebrating his loss. And think back to when Dan Savage started the whole "Santorum" thing in response to his ridiculous comments about homosexuality. He was a bigot we could all make fun of. Did it ever look like he had any sort of future in elected politics? No.

And yet here he is.

No, he won't win the nomination, I think it's still safe to say that, but he's done awfully well during this campaign. He kept going even when he was in single digits, as the various other conservative non- and anti-Romneys fell away. Then he surged and, yes, won Iowa. That appeared to be that, what with bad showings in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada, and with Gingrich re-emerging in South Carolina as Romney's main challenger, but by then Santorum was already looking ahead to today, looking to surge once more (surge being one of the key words of the race), looking to get back into it.

And he's certainly gotten back into it.

Even if he doesn't win another vote, even if this is it for him, it's been an impressive run. And certainly not what anyone with any sense at all would have predicted.

12:03 am - It's up to 46% reporting in Colorado. And it's Santorum over Romney 41 to 30.

12:04 am - Missouri's just about done, with 99% reporting. It's Santorum 55, Romney 25, and Paul 12. It looks like there's one county left, Putnam, but Santorum's won every other county. And, again, it's not at all a surprise, given how much attention he gave this non-binding primary and with Newt not even on the ballot, but a win's a win and he'll take all the wins he can get.

12:07 am -- 75% reporting in Minnesota. It's Santorum 45, Paul 27, Romney 17, and Gingrich 11.

Now this is big. Don't let Romney's low-expectations game fool you. Big in a very good way for Santorum, who ends up with almost half the vote and a decisive victory, with Newt, his rival for the anti-Romney vote, bringing up the rear. Big in a very bad way for Romney, who finishes a distant third in a state he won in 2008. Don't get me wrong, there are good explanations of this result that lessen the blow for Romney (e.g., Santorum spent a lot of time and energy here; Santorum has clear appeal for the conservative caucus electorate; Romney was the conservative alternative to McCain in 2008, whereas he's the establishment candidate now), but it's hard not to see this as a significant setback for him, particularly if Santorum wins Colorado as well and is able to come out of today with three wins, more money, and a ton of media attention.

12:17 am -- Okay, that's it for me tonight. My headache is now bigger than the size of Newt's ego.

12:19 am -- Keep checking back for more new posts from me and the great Reaction team.

Good night, everyone.

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