Campaign signs for Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are seen along a road in Dallas County, Iowa, December 24, 2011. REUTERS/Joshua Lott
The big winner Tuesday? Anybody But Romney.
After eight states have held Republican primaries and caucuses, the ordained front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination has lost the majority of contests. Mitt Romney has won three races (New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada) but he has now lost five (Iowa, South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota).
Here’s the even more unsettling fact for those who would make Romney a nominee: Rick Santorum, who was supposed a footnote to the 2012 contest, has won more states than Mitt Romney. But let’s not succumb to Santorumania just yet.
Yes, yes, of course, the sweater vest had a good night. But the big deal is that Republicans rejected the empty suit.
Rick Santorum may have won beauty contests Tuesday in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, but he won’t even be on the ballot for delegate-rich contests in states such as Indiana and Virginia. He’s still running for vice president, or maybe a cabinet post.
Santorum is a story. But he is not the story.
The story is the fact that Mitt Romney lost so very miserably in three battleground states.
Romney finished second in Colorado and Missouri and, remarkably, barely mustered a third-place finish (behind Santorum and Ron Paul, barely ahead of Newt Gingrich) in Minnesota.
But the place on the list is less telling than than overwhelming levels of opposition to Romney.
In Colorado, 65 percent of Republican caucus-goers voted against the man who started the week as the all-but-declared nominee of their party.
In Missouri, 75 percent of Republican primary voters backed someone other than Romney.
In Minnesota, 83 percent of Republican caucus-goers rejected Romney. That’s particularly striking, as Romney won Minnesota in 2008 with 41 percent of the vote.
In many Minnesota counties, Romney finished fourth, behind Santorum, Paul and Gingrich. Some of the former Massachusetts governor’s worst losses were in collar counties around the Twin Cities, an essential base for Republican presidential contenders in the fall.
Several Minnesota counties recorded less than 5 percent support for Romney. In western Minnesota’s Norman County (Red River Valley), no one caucused for him. Mitt got 0 percent.
His finishes in the Republican heartlands of rural Missouri and Colorado were almost as bad.
Even more unsettling for the Republicans has to be the fact that, despite intensive campaigning in the three states, turnout collapsed.
In Missouri, a classic bellweather state, there was a stunning drop in primary participation. In 2008, GOP primary turnout was 589,289. In 2012 ,GOP primary turnout was 251,496. That’s way less than half the turnout just four years ago.
In Minnesota, caucus turnout four years ago was 62,828. This year, it will be under 50,000. That’s an almost 20 percent dropoff.
In Colorado, 70,229 Republicans caucused in 2008. This year, turnout was 64,000. That’s close to a 10 percent dropoff.
Of course, there were some differences between the 2008 contests and the 2012 contests in these states. The Romney people want you to know that this year’s races were “non-binding beauty contests.” But isn’t your likely nominee supposed to be attractive enough politically to win beauty contests? And isn’t this supposed to be the year when conservatives are all excited to pick a nominee and go after the dreaded Barack Obama?
Something isn’t adding up here for Mitt Romney.
But that other candidate, Anybody But Romney, is going from strength to strength.
So, too, it would seem, is the prospective Democratic nominee, if Barack Obama is lucky enough to get Mitt Romney as an opponent.
In Missouri’s Republican primary on Tuesday, where all the attention and campaigning was focused, Romney secured 63,826 votes.
Running essentially unopposed in the extraordinarily low-profile Missouri Democratic primary, Obama won 64,405.
John Nichols’ new book on protests and politics, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street will be published next week by Nation Books. Follow John Nichols on Twitter @NicholsUprising>