Even before a vote was cast in Colorado, Minnesota, or Missouri on Tuesday, the Romney campaign was downplaying each contest. On Tuesday morning, the Romney campaign distributed a memo to the media and other interested parties reminding them that the contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri were meaningless since two of them were nonbinding preference polls, and the other was strictly a beauty contest.
Lowering expectations is nothing new in politics, but it seemed odd that a campaign with a lot of momentum and plenty of financial resources like Romney’s wouldn’t play to win. Remember, it was Romney who basically ignored Iowa for the better part of a year before making a major investment in the final weeks of the campaign. It seemed this time Romney’s campaign saw trouble and held back in Minnesota, but losing in Colorado was something they did not see coming.
Romney did not campaign in Missouri, but he did make stops in Minnesota and Colorado. His Super PAC spent $127,000 on television ads in Minnesota, the same amount as Santorum’s Super PAC spent. Romney’s campaign sent mail to likely caucus goers in Minnesota, Santorum didn’t. Romney also had the endorsement of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who was very visible in the week leading up to the Minnesota caucus.
The Romney campaign was more confident about Colorado. Unlike in Minnesota where he canceled a rally after his Nevada victory, Romney campaigned in Colorado and spent money on mail and phone calls. Santorum’s Super PAC didn’t run television ads in Colorado, but did spend about $40,000 on phone calls in the state. At the end of the day, the only state where Santorum spent more money than Romney was in Missouri, and even then it wasn’t much. All told, the Super PAC spent about $50,000 on television ads and spent another $15,000 on phones.
The notion that Santorum focused and spent a lot of money to win in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri on Tuesday night is nothing more than spin from the Romney campaign. Had Romney won those states instead of Santorum, he would have cut off the oxygen to both Gingrich and Santorum. In many respects, he would have made it nearly impossible for anyone else to gain traction before Super Tuesday.
It’s not the fact that Romney lost three states on Tuesday that should concern his campaign, it’s how badly he lost. Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri consist of 265 counties. Romney only won 17 of them, while Santorum won 240, or 91 percent. It’s inconceivable that Romney, the clear national frontrunner for the Republican nomination, didn’t win a single county in either Minnesota or Missouri.
Santorum’s small investment of time and resources paid huge dividends. The most difficult thing that Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum had to overcome was always going to be remaining viable until Super Tuesday rolled around. To accomplish that they each needed to find a win in the month of February. Santorum did that and so much more on Tuesday. The crazy thing is that Romney allowed Santorum to do it with out bankrupting his campaign or even making the task difficult.
Santorum’s big night also confirms some troubling trends for Romney. Despite his big wins in Florida and Nevada, polls show that Romney is losing appeal with the Republican base. If anything, Santorum’s sweep on Tuesday night added an exclamation point to that. However, Romney was showing signs of trouble before the results came on Tuesday night.
In head-to-head national polls against President Obama, it was Santorum who polled ahead of the President, not Romney. Those polls showed that Santorum’s populist message is resonating with independent voters. Now that Santorum owns victories in four key swing states, we know that those poll numbers are not a fluke.
The emerging issue set also favors Santorum over Romney. With the unemployment numbers creeping down, Republicans are going to have to deliver a much more disciplined critique of President Obama. Santorum’s focus on the manufacturing sector speaks right to the swing voters in industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Foreign policy and social issues have also dominated the headlines as of late. Both sets of issues are in Santorum’s wheelhouse.
Romney has struggled to put his opponents away in this election. After winning three states on Tuesday, Santorum has all the fuel his campaign needs to make it Super Tuesday. There is also a chance that he could cause Romney more damage if he is somehow able to win either Michigan or Arizona later this month.
It’s understandable why the Romney campaign is downplaying what happened on Tuesday night. However, one has to wonder why they didn’t play to win? Unlike their opponents, they had the resources to spend, yet chose not to. Now they have to contend with Santorum who has a lot of momentum and is raising a lot of money.
When it’s all said and done, we may look back to February 7th and say that is the day the Romney lost control of the race. Only time will tell.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
- Rick Santorum’s Super Tuesday (theiowarepublican.com)
- Sununu: Santorum spent ‘a ton’ (politico.com)
- Five things we learned from Tuesday (cnn.com)
- Santorum sweep puts pressure on Gingrich going into Super Tuesday (foxnews.com)
- Rick Santorum finally gets his moment (cbsnews.com)
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