After the American Century
A week is a long time in American politics. Two weeks ago Gingrich trounced Romney, and he seemed the emerging leader. One week ago Romney trounced Gingrich in Florida, and many pundits were saying that the race was all but over. Now this week Santorum has won not just one state but three, all in a single night. Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado have all spoken with one voice. The Republicans there like the former Senator from Pennsylvania. This should not be such a surprise, because Santorum began this campaign with a strong showing in the Iowa heartland that turned into a victory on the recount.
In the heartland they do not much like Romney. Perhaps it is because evangelicals are uncomfortable with his Mormonism. Perhaps it is because a rich investor is not their kind of guy. Perhaps he just does not pass the famous "beer test" - i.e. which of these candidates would the average voter most want to sit down and have a beer with? Romney, as a faithful Mormon, does not drink, suggesting that he is ultimately unelectable.
Santorum has not won narrow victories. In Minnesota he had more votes than the next two candidates combined, with Romney running a weak third at just 16%. In Missouri Romney did somewhat better, with 25% of the vote, but Santorum also was stronger there, with 55% of the votes as I write this, with final results still pending. Colorado is still counting, but it seems that Santorum's win there is also assured, but the precise percentages are not yet forthcoming. With a third of the vote counted, Santorum has 42%, Romney 30%, and Gingrich 15%. Gingrich commented on these results, saying that Romney's attack advertising had hurt him and given Santorum a chance.
Ron Paul also remains in the race, and can be encouraged by the fact that he beat Romney in Minnesota, to finish second. In Missouri and Colorado, however, he was last.
What do Santorum's victories mean? One way to get a grip on the race is to look at the delegate count, where Romney still has a commanding lead. But another, more important aspect of the situation is less tangible: momentum. Romney is losing it and Santorum is getting it. The Senator's supporters are passionate, and they have brought him these victories even though Romney spent far more money on advertising. But in caucuses passion trumps money every time.