Santorum Sweeps Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado; Slows Romney’s Momentum

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  February 8, 2012 at 9:30 AM EDT

Rick Santorum; photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

Rick Santorum, with his daughter Elizabeth, left, and wife Karen, celebrates with supporters in St. Charles, Mo. Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

This time Rick Santorum did not have to wait 17 days to find out the good news.

Sure, the former Pennsylvania senator was expected to win a non-binding primary in Missouri that rival campaigns and pundits dismissed as a “beauty contest.” And the thinking was Santorum might even win Minnesota’s caucuses. But the surprise of the night came in Colorado, where Santorum won by five points after polls showed Mitt Romney the favorite by double digits.

Santorum’s sweep of the three contests Tuesday night revived his presidential prospects and stalled Romney’s momentum after his two convincing victories in Florida and Nevada.

“I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama,” Santorum said at his election night party in Missouri.

Addressing supporters in Denver, Romney offered his congratulations to Santorum but projected confidence that he would eventually claim the GOP nomination.

“We’ll keep on campaigning down the road, but I expect to become our nominee with your help,” Romney said. “When this primary season is over, we’re going to stand united as a party behind our nominee to defeat Barack Obama,” he added.

As Team Romney will be sure to remind the world this week, no actual delegates were awarded. But that didn’t stop news outlets from projecting counts that now put Santorum in second place.

Click here for the latest on the race to 1,144, courtesy of the Washington Post.

Beyond the delegate count, there is another set of numbers that could portend general election troubles for Republicans. All three states saw fewer voters turn out Tuesday compared to four years ago, with Missouri’s drop-off being the sharpest, with less than half the number of ballots cast. (Of course, the “beauty contest” label might have had a little something to do with that.)

In Colorado, voter participation was down by about 7 percent, while in Minnesota, with 95 percent of precincts reporting, voting was off by more than 23 percent.

Dampened enthusiasm in non-binding nominating contests is one thing, but whichever Republican contender emerges with the nomination better hope that turnout is there when the votes really count in November, especially in battleground states such as Colorado and Missouri.

Visit our map center to see full county-by-county results of all three states.

ASKING AXE

On Tuesday night, Judy Woodruff (@judywoodruff) interviewed President Obama’s top campaign strategist David Axelrod, who defended their recent decision about super PACs and noted that 98 percent of their campaign’s donations are from small donors.

The super PACs have “spent more money than all the Republican candidates in these primaries, over $40 million, and 99 percent of it on negative ads. And that was a little preview. That was the appetizer,” Axelrod said. “You know, we’re the entree. And they’re going to spend multiples of that to try and defeat the president. And it is simply — it is not wise and it’s not right for us to sit by with our hands tied behind our back and allow that, the election to be hijacked by these groups.”

More from the interview:

Woodruff: Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, still has a primary fight on his hands, but your campaign has pretty much been treating him as the eventual nominee. What are the strengths that you see in Mitt Romney that make you assume that he will be?

Axelrod: Well, look, he’s been a weak front-runner from the beginning. He continues to be a weak front-runner. He has far more resources than anyone else. He’s run for president now twice. He’s got a national organization.

It seems like the Republican establishment has largely embraced him in this race. So it’s logical to assume that he — you know, he continues to be a weak front-runner, and that he may be the nominee of the party. And we’re prepared for that. He certainly projects himself that way.

And we’ll be prepared for that debate.

Woodruff: And in terms of framing the campaign at this point going forward, your major challenge is what?

Axelrod: Well, look, we’re going to project a positive vision for how we move forward as a country and rebuild, not just regain the jobs we have lost, but rebuild an economy in which the middle class is growing, and not shrinking, in which people who work hard can get ahead, in which people can look forward to a better future for their kids.

That’s how we measure progress in the economy. And there is going to be a very distinct difference between the way we approach it and the way the folks on the other side do, and particularly Gov. Romney, who seems to believe that, if we just go back to what we were doing and cut taxes for the very wealthy, cut regulations on Wall Street, that somehow we’ll all profit from that and the economy will grow. Well, we just tested that proposition and it failed.

Watch the full interview here.

ON THE HUNT FOR CASH

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg all explore the Democrats’ efforts to bring in big donors now that the president has given his blessing on donating to super PACs supporting his campaign.

Nicholas Confessore of The New York Times calls the push a “furious drive” to woo big donors. More details from his story:

In the coming weeks, the group will form a fund-raising account with two other super PACs working on behalf of Democratic House and Senate candidates, making it easier for donors to contribute broadly to independent efforts supporting the party. And they planned a fresh round of appeals to Obama supporters who have been major donors and bundlers for the president’s own fund-raising efforts but who have not donated to independent expenditure groups.

Hans Nichols writes for Bloomberg that Obama campaign manager Jim Messina “told [a] group of Wall Street donors that the president plans to run against Romney, not the industry that made the former governor of Massachusetts millions, according to one of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.”

And in the Wall Street Journal, Brody Mullins, Erica Orden and Carol E. Lee take a look at one big donor in particular. From the story, which is free for subscribers:

Obama supporters are soliciting help from Haim Saban, an Israeli-American music and media executive who owns the rights to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Saban wrote his first check to Mr. Obama only recently, according to campaign-finance records, and now is considering donating to the pro-Obama super PAC. In a written statement Tuesday, he said: “We are looking at all the Super PACs at the moment, will surely participate, but haven’t decided on the details.”

While he backed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Mr. Saban closed his wallet when Mr. Obama secured the Democratic party nomination in 2008 and has been a critic of his actions regarding Israel.

In 2002, just before a campaign-finance law limited direct donations to parties, Mr. Saban–who Forbes magazine recently estimated is worth $2.9 billion–was the biggest individual giver to any party, handing the Democratic Party $9.2 million.

2012 LINE ITEMS

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • The Washington Post offers part two of its examination of federal disclosure forms, and finds that some “members of Congress send tax dollars to institutions where their spouses, children and parents work.”

  • Here’s the NewsHour’s in-depth look at the appeals court ruling on gay marriage in California Tuesday.

  • The Hill’s Russell Berman and Bernie Becker write about tempers flaring over the payroll tax cut extension talks and note how that prompted “the top House GOP negotiator on the committee, Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.), to tell leaders of both parties to back off and let the panel work.”

  • Roll Call’s John Stanton and Humberto Sanchez look at what’s in the transportation bill moving its way through the Capitol.

  • First lady Michelle Obama defeated NBC “Late Night” comedian Jimmy Fallon in a competition involving push-ups, hula-hoops and a potato sack race. The battle royale was all part of the first lady’s effort to promote her “Let’s Move!” fitness campaign.

  • The Washington Times talks to privacy advocates who are worried about provisions related to drones in the FAA reauthorization measure.

  • A top political aide for Texas Gov. Rick Perry will lead the primary campaign for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is running for U.S. Senate, reports Emily Ramshaw of the Texas Tribune.

  • Rep. Marcy Kaptur airs her first television ad in her Democratic primary matchup against Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a member-vs.-member race sparked by redistricting in Ohio.

  • Former Sen. Bob Kerrey will not run for Senate in Nebraska, leaving Democrats with few options for holding onto Sen. Ben Nelson’s seat this fall. That leaves two potential candidates: State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha and University of Nebraska regent Chuck Hassebrook, the Omaha World Herald reports.

NewsHour politics desk assistant Alex Bruns contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Newt Gingrich tours Jergens Inc. in Cleveland at 10:30 a.m. He is scheduled to give remarks at 10:45 a.m.

  • Rick Santorum campaigns in Texas, meeting with pastors in McKinney at 10:30 a.m., addressing a Tea Party group in Allen at 6 p.m. and holding a Plano rally at 8 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney holds an event with supporters in Atlanta at 4 p.m.

  • Ron Paul has no public events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @quinnbowman.

This post has been updated to reflect the number of precincts reporting in Minnesota.