Santorum Sweeps Midwest, Wins Three State Contests

The former Pennsylvania senator wins three presidential primary elections.

Called that one wrong, didn’t I? Rick Santorum actually swept all three Midwestern states that held presidential primary contests on Tuesday.

In Colorado, which four years ago was a Romney stronghold, Santorum had a 5 point lead over the former Massachusetts governor, 40 to 35 percent. The difference in actual votes was less than 4,000 because turnout was dismal.

The main story is still Mitt Romney’s failure to enthuse conservatives. He wasn’t able to draw more people out to vote for him. Neither was Newt Gingrich. The former House speaker barely beat Ron Paul for third place in Colorado and received only 10 percent of the vote in Minnesota which is now Santorum country. The former Pennsylvania senator won almost 140,000 votes there, an outright majority. Romney finished a distant second at 25 percent.

Santorum’s win in Missouri is colored by Gingrich’s absence on the ballet and the state’s peculiar exercise in democracy last night which had no bearing on actual delegate selection. There will be a proper caucus March 17. Santorum’s victory in what was effectively an opinion poll or “beauty contest” does reinvigorate his campaign and enables him to position himself not just as the conservative alternate to Mitt Romney. As he told supporters in St. Charles last night, “I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”

Expect Romney to go negative on Santorum now. That’s how he destroyed Gingrich in Florida. The question is, will Santorum do the same? He’s likely to see more donations to his campaign and the independent political action committee that supports it in the coming days but so far, the former senator has refrained from smearing his opponents. He has criticized both Gingrich and Romney for taking what he considers to be unconservative positions on climate change legislation and health insurance in the past but promised not to question the former House speaker’s lobbyist activities, as Romney has done, nor Romney’s career as a venture capitalist, as Gingrich has done.

The news media will also have a closer look at Santorum’s record and views now that he’s jumped to the fore so maybe team Romney won’t have to run too many negative advertisements to make voters wonder whether Santorum is as conservative as he says he is. He once defended congressional earmarks and “big government” programs if they promoted faith and family. That may resonate with evangelical voters but it’s not small-government conservatism.

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