Here we go again. With his low-turnout hat trick last night, Rick Santorum wrested the non-Mitt mantle from Newt Gingrich and blew out Romney pretty convincingly in the heartland. Romney got 35 percent of the vote in Colorado, 25 percent in Missouri, and 17 percent in Minnesota, where he finished third behind Ron Paul.
In other words, Mitt bumped his head on the old Romney ceiling again. And with Gingrich going down for what is probably the last time (to the moon, Newt!?) Santorum — as the last plausible alternative candidate still standing — is now in a position to put Romney’s electability argument to the acid test.
Sure, the Romney camp can dismiss the results on various grounds (we didn’t really compete, the dog ate our super PAC), but it’s tough to put a happy face on these numbers. Whereas it’s pretty easy to see them for what some of us around here have been saying for a while now . . . but let one of the crack Republican “strategists” say it for us:
“Team Romney might need to tweak its strategy. So far they’ve been successful in going negative on their opponents and touting his business experience,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said. “But obviously Republican primary voters are hungry for something more.”
Tactically, Romney got Gingrich to blow himself up by hitting him where he’s weakest — right in the ego — but strategically he still hasn’t made the sale. Gingrich never fully realized that (as Rush repeatedly pointed out) he was just the vessel for the sizable Anybody But Romney sentiment. Once Newt trotted out his best Bob Dole impression (“stop lying about my record”), the SS SquarePants started going down for the third time and voters began to look elsewhere.
The low turnout is, I think, significant. If there really had been Mittmentum after Florida, why didn’t his voters show up, if only to send a message to Obama and the Democrats that they’re comin’ to getcha in November? Gingrich caught that lightning in a bottle in South Carolina, then lost it in a fit of petulance that played right into his crybaby persona. Santorum lacks Newt’s improvisational brilliance but also his emotional instability.
If the stop-Romney wing of the GOP electorate has a chance, the choice is rapidly narrowing to Santorum. It’s always the last place you look, isn’t it?