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How Significant Were Santorum’s 3 Victories?

February 8, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Rick Santorum was projected to move into second place in the GOP nomination delegate count after scoring wins in three states Tuesday. Gwen Ifill and Christina Bellantoni examine the new state of play in the Republican race, then Judy Woodruff and senior Santorum strategist John Brabender discuss his candidate's campaign.
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GWEN IFILL: It was a big night and day after for Rick Santorum. He swept the latest round of Republican presidential nominating tests and, in so doing, altered the complexion of the race.

RICK SANTORUM (R): Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: The former Pennsylvania senator scored decisive victories in both those states, plus a five-point win in Colorado, outgunning front-runner Mitt Romney in all three of Tuesday’s contests.

RICK SANTORUM: I don’t stand here today to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: Santorum won with minimal turnout, less than 6 percent of the voting-age population in Missouri, and in Colorado and Minnesota, less than 2 percent.

Still, his trifecta dealt a blow to Romney’s inevitability argument, days after he scored big wins in both Florida and Nevada.

The former Massachusetts governor addressed his supporters last night in Denver.

MITT ROMNEY (R): This was a good night for Rick Santorum. Want to congratulate Sen. Santorum, wish him the very best. We will keep on campaigning down the road, but I expect to become our nominee, with your help.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: The Romney campaign tried to play down Tuesday’s bad news in a memo released in advance by political director Rich Beeson: “There is no way for any nominee to win first place in every single contest,” Beeson wrote, “but unlike the other candidates, our campaign has the resources and organization to keep winning over the long run.”

Tuesday’s results can only help Santorum’s underfinanced campaign. He said today he raised a quarter-of-a-million dollars overnight. Texas Congressman Ron Paul finished second in Minnesota, third in Missouri and last in Colorado.

He spoke last night in his strongest state.

REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas: Believe it or not, we did very well tonight and have a very, very strong second place, and it’s going to continue.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich finished far back in both Colorado and Minnesota, and he wasn’t even on the ballot in Missouri.

At an Ohio factory today, he ignored the results as he talked up manufacturing.

NEWT GINGRICH (R): You cannot be the arsenal of democracy if you don’t have an arsenal. So, we very badly need to rebuild our manufacturing base so that we are competitive.

GWEN IFILL: Because no delegates were officially awarded last night, Romney has still won the most so far. But an Associated Press analysis based on last night’s margins of victory concludes that, while Romney remains ahead with 107 delegates, Santorum is now in second place with 69, ahead of Gingrich and Paul. Those delegates would be officially allocated at upcoming party conventions and caucuses.

More than 1,100 are needed to clinch the national nomination.

NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni is here with more on what’s next after Santorum’s surprising trifecta.

Christina, given these three outcomes from last night, which one did you find the most surprising?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Colorado was definitely the most surprising. Missouri, which I’m sure we can talk about, was less of a formal contest. Not very many people turned out. Minnesota was going to be a little tighter.

But Colorado, Mitt Romney was favored here. There weren’t very many polls coming into the caucuses. They were mostly done by Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning pollster. But Romney was favored by 10, 12 points in a lot of these polls, and some fairly recently.

So, with Santorum winning by five points, as you can see on our map, Romney was able to win the western-northwestern part of the state, which is close to Utah, where he has a strength. But he was not able to really deliver.

Another big surprising thing of the night, this green portion here is the one county where Newt Gingrich actually won in all three of the states, and I think that that’s a surprising result as well, because this was something where everybody looked at him as perhaps coming in second place, and he didn’t even really show up.

GWEN IFILL: But given the low turnout, which we saw, how much of this was a Romney loss and how much of it a Santorum win?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yes, I think that Santorum’s folks look at it as a big win for them. In part, they’ve been able to raise a lot of money off of this. They able to sort of capture on the momentum and the media attention to him in a way that when you just — you won Iowa and you didn’t even find out you won Iowa for two weeks. He didn’t get that national attention that he’s getting today.

So that’s a win for them. But it really does suggest a lot about a lack of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney. He wasn’t able to get his people out. Turnout was low in all three of these states. The people that turned out were people that didn’t necessarily like him or like his ideals.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s walk through the other two states.

In Minnesota, what did we see happening there?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Well, Minnesota — and this is a caucus state and it’s an area where you can’t always predict what’s going to happen there. There’s a lot of political dynamics in Minnesota on both the Republican and Democratic side.

But this is an area where you had two candidates who are actually from Minnesota running for president before they actually dropped out, Tim Pawlenty, the former governor there, and then Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

GWEN IFILL: Both kicking themselves today.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Exactly. And Tim Pawlenty had — worked very hard for Mitt Romney, campaigned for Romney in Minnesota. Bachmann has not endorsed anyone, so who knows if that made any difference.

But Rick Santorum was able to really deliver here. Now, it is very important to note that the turnout was down in all three of these states. It was down 7 percent from 2008 in Colorado in the same contest, 23 percent from Minnesota in the same contest, and in Missouri, just half of the people turned out this time that turned out in 2008.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about Missouri. Is Missouri a particularly conservative state among — in Republican circles?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yes, Missouri is very conservative. A lot of evangelicals live there. It’s the home of Rush Limbaugh, where he grew up.

And it’s also an area where you’ve seen it was a battleground state. It has slipped away from Democrats in recent years in presidential contests. The Obama campaign isn’t really considering contesting it.

And Rick Santorum had some key endorsements there. Phyllis Schlafly, who’s not a name we really think about all that much these days, sort of an icon of the early female movement on the conservative side, you know, she was a big endorser for him. She had been with Bachmann before. He was able to really drive home some of these key groups. And he did a lot of events with evangelicals.

GWEN IFILL: And is it too soon to say that Santorum has replaced Newt Gingrich, who, as we pointed out, wasn’t really on the map in any of these three states, as kind of the anti-Romney?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: It might be too soon, but one indicator of this is what the Romney campaign is doing.

You’re seeing them go full-out against Rick Santorum with press releases. You haven’t heard them really talk that much about Newt Gingrich. so, the question is, do they put anti-Santorum ads on television ahead of these contests that are going to be Feb. 28 in Arizona and Michigan, and then Super Tuesday, March 6?

And Santorum, if he’s able to put some money on the air as well — if he’s raising all — this much money — that could be very interesting.

GWEN IFILL: I know you will be watching, Christina Bellantoni. Thanks a lot.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Thanks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: John Brabender, a senior strategist to Senator Santorum’s presidential campaign, joins us now from Pittsburgh.

John Brabender, thank you for joining us. Congratulations.

JOHN BRABENDER, senior Rick Santorum campaign strategist: Thank you for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And congratulations to your candidate.

I do want to ask you, though, yes, the senator won in three states, but with such low turnout. We just heard 2 percent, 6 percent. How much of an accomplishment was this?

JOHN BRABENDER: Well, I think it matters a lot because it’s the people who are paying most attention in the Republican Party right now.

And each state had its own symbolism, if you will. Missouri was particularly interesting to me because exactly why you said there. Newt Gingrich was not on the ballot. It’s the one state where Rick Santorum had a clear shot with Mitt Romney. So, it was the moderate vs. conservative pure battle, and Rick Santorum won that state by 30 points.

And then you go to a state like Minnesota, which was expected to be tight, and Mitt Romney only got about 17, 18 percent of the vote. That means 82 percent of the people voted for somebody other than who was the supposed frontrunner.

So I think that there was a lot that said. There’s been eight states so far, and Rick Santorum has won half of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of Gov. Romney, he was out on the trail today saying, yes, congratulations to Sen. Santorum, but he said, in effect, we didn’t really compete head to head. He said, we didn’t really compete in the states of Colorado and Minnesota. He said, when we do, we can beat him.

JOHN BRABENDER: Yeah, well, I thought it was also interesting that as you mentioned they put out a press release yesterday saying they’re still the best candidate because they’re the best funded campaign.

And I guess they’re going to print up bumper stickers that say “Newt Gingrich for president because we have more money than anyone else.”

The truth of the matter is, I feel that these are excuses. And, frankly, I think you even have to wonder if these aren’t slightly insulting to the states that did hold their primaries and caucuses yesterday, that now, after the fact, he’s saying that those states really didn’t matter to him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You also know, John Brabender, that Mitt Romney is coming after Sen. Santorum, saying that when he was in the Senate, the debt ceiling was raised I think he said five or six or seven times, and he talks about federal spending shooting up when Sen. Santorum was in the Senate. He says what this country needs is somebody who wasn’t part of Washington back then.

JOHN BRABENDER: Well, it’s interesting, because two things. We’re talking about Mitt Romney who gave us — basically, Romneycare became Obamacare.

We’re talking about Mitt Romney, who supported the Wall Street bailouts, which is deeply offensive to all Tea Party supporters. And interesting thing about Sen. Santorum, when they say about insider/outsider, he actually was an insider in the sense that he was in Washington, but he acted like an outsider.

He was part of the gang of seven that closed the scandal-ridden House bank and House post office. He even got — away with little perks for senators like taxpayer-funded meals and taxpayer-funded haircuts. And he’s also the one who reformed welfare, taking millions from welfare to work and also getting rid of all the abuse.

So, if Gov. Romney wants to go match for match as far as who has had a bigger impact on fiscal sanity being brought to Washington and being brought to this campaign trail, we sort of welcome that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The image many people have of Sen. Santorum is that he appeals mainly to social conservatives in the Republican Party.

Where are those voters going to be in the contests that come up in late February in Michigan and Arizona, the Super Tuesday states in early March? Are there enough of those voters for him to continue with the kind of success that he had last night?

JOHN BRABENDER: Well, first of all, I think you have got to be a little careful.

Do those groups appeal — does the senator appeal to those groups? Absolutely, because he’s been consistent on those issues. Unlike Mitt Romney, who’s been all over the map on, for example, the life issue, Rick Santorum has been consistent on those issues. So they do appeal to him.

However, I do believe his blue-collar roots, coming from Pennsylvania, his manufacturing plan to bring back manufacturing jobs from China, his fiscal responsibility, all those things mean a broader group of people who are supporting the senator.

Think about this. Rick Santorum won every single county in Missouri last night against Romney. You cannot do that unless you’re getting groups from the Tea Party, from the social conservatives and mainstream Republicans. And Rick Santorum appeals, I believe, across that whole spectrum.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The other comment, John Brabender, we’re hearing today from the — just this afternoon from the Romney camp is that they’re the one campaign with the money and the resources to go the distance.

Now, we know that you were raising money overnight. I gather there was a 20-minute hold at your campaign office from people who wanted to donate. How much money have you raised? And how much of a problem is it just to keep at it?

JOHN BRABENDER: Look, I will acknowledge right now that if the campaign simply comes down to who can run the largest number of attack ads, that we should just quit all the primaries right now and declare Mitt Romney the winner.

However, the fact that Rick Santorum has won half of the states so far, spending just a fraction of the amount that Mitt Romney has spent, says to me that people care a heck of a lot more about the message and the messenger and their record than how many ads they’re going to run on TV.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re in Pittsburgh. That is, of course, the area where Sen. Santorum grew up. Are we to assume that you’re shooting commercials there to air for his campaign now?

JOHN BRABENDER: Well, I was here. I also am a native of Pennsylvania, and I was here doing some things.

Rick, unfortunately, is not here in Pennsylvania today. He’s in Texas and then on to Oklahoma. But this is — Pennsylvania is very much a big part of the hub of the Santorum campaign, and many things relative to the campaign are produced here, and many of our volunteers and supporters and staff come from Pennsylvania. And we’re very thrilled the fact that, come April, we’re also going to have a primary here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Shooting a commercial?

JOHN BRABENDER: I was here shooting a commercial today, but I’m not telling you any more than that.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Okay.

Finally, if Iowa had gotten the results right in the first place, how much difference do you think that would have made?

JOHN BRABENDER: You know, I’m sure it would have made some, but that’s looking back.

All I know is that, last night, there were three primaries and caucuses in this country, and Rick Santorum won all three. And the strange thing about presidential primaries and this process is, there’s no time to look back or even any time to stop and enjoy what just happened.

You have to look forward, and you have to deal with the cards that you are dealt. And what we believe right now is, we have the momentum. The excitement’s there. These weren’t small victories. We won by big margins. We’re seeing the contributions coming into RickSantorum.com going through the roof. As you said, there was a long delay today because we had to add more servers.

And so I’ll tell you what. We’re pretty excited about where we are. And I think there’s a lot of people in this country who for the first time in these primaries are very excited about a candidate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: John Brabender, senior strategist to Rick Santorum, thank you very much.

JOHN BRABENDER: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.