Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri held contests in the Republican primaries Tuesday, Feb. 7.
The caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota were official, while the contest in Missouri was not. The “official” primary in Missouri won’t be held until March. Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Senator, swept all three contests. In Colorado, Santorum received 40.3 percent of the votes, Willard “Mitt” Romney was second with 34.9 percent, followed by Newt Gingrich with 12.8 percent and Ron Paul with 11.8 percent.
In Minnesota Santorum garnered 44.9 percent of the votes, Paul was second with 27.1 percent, followed by Romney with 16.9 percent and Gingrich with 10.8 percent. In Missouri Santorum had 55.2 percent of the votes, Romney was a distant second with 25.3 percent, followed by Paul with 12.2 percent.
Evidently, Santorum has heretofore unsuspected strength in the Midwest. Santorum had been polling well in Missouri and Minnesota for over a week, and therefore his victories in those states were not so surprising. Romney had been expected to win in Colorado, but Santorum was able to close the gap in the final days before the vote and win Colorado as well.
At this point in time, it seems like there is a significant block of voters in the Republican primaries who are looking for a conservative candidate to run in the fall election. Romney has voiced opinions during this primary process that are as conservative as any of the other candidates, but evidently the conservatives in the Republican Party don’t trust Romney to adhere to the positions he has taken during this primary once the conventions are over and the general election begins.
Santorum is well-positioned to benefit from any mistrust of Romney, because Santorum has always been conservative all of his life. In fact, Santorum’s problem may be that he is too conservative to win a presidential election. When Romney moves farther to the right on any given issue, people take it for granted that he will race back to the center once the convention is over, and thus contend for the vital “swing” vote. As a result, no one takes Romney’s newfound conservatism very seriously (particularly on social issues) and it certainly is not considered an impediment in the general election. By contrast, Santorum’s far-right positions (he is, for example, opposed to contraception) are taken very seriously because they are what he has always espoused and people believe that these positions would be the policies of a Santorum administration.
Aside from the fact that Santorum is no centrist, the other obstacle he faces is Romney’s ability to raise money. Ninety-eight percent of the money Romney has raised has been donated in amounts of $25,000 or more. Romney’s “Super Pac” has received at least 10 donations of $1 million or more. The candidate who raises the most money usually wins, and this is especially true in a Republican primary. Nevertheless, Santorum seems to be strong in the Midwest, which is an important region in any primary. He very well might manage to score some more upsets before it is over.
Paul Schwietering is a former Democratic state central committeeman. He lives in Union Township.