This race has really been amazing, I think that when someone writes a chronicle of it, that it should be titled Things Change. Just over 2 and a half weeks ago, it looked like Newt could romp after his stunning victory in South Carolina. Then just a few days ago, after his victories in Florida and Nevada, it was looking like Romney would just skip the rest of the debates and focus on the general election and there were rumors Santorum would drop out. And I don't even have to mention all the twists and turns that happened before that, which saw surges for Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich and then Santorum. Anyway, it looks like a whole new race for everyone now after Santorum won in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, where must a few days ago people were expecting Romney to win with 40-50% of the vote.
For Romney, I think Michigan, which holds its primary on February 28th, becomes a do-or-die state. Romney carried Michigan in 2008 in no small part because his father had been Governor and had also been head of American Motors. For Romney to lose there would be a real black eye for his campaign to be President. He needs to go nuclear on Santorum and do it now in order not to lose such a key state. I would expect just about everything to be thrown at the wall to see what sticks as last night showed that when Romney doesn't carpet bomb a media market with negative ads about his opponents, he doesn't do so well. I would also expect him to change his strategy and start participating in future debates (which probably means he will have to grovel to his debate coach, who he so ignominiously fired for getting too much credit for his debate performances). Although this runs the risk of giving Newt another platform to showcase his very impressive oratorical wares, which could breath new life into his campaign (though at this point, perhaps Romney will want this to happen in order to take away votes from Santorum).
Santorum, on the other hand, shouldn't get too cocky about his victories. There was no grassroots surge propelling him to victory, in fact turnout for him was just as lackluster as it was for the Romney victories. Compared to 2008, turnout in Minnesota was down 24%, turnout in Colorado was down 7% and turnout in Missouri was down a whopping 57% thanks to the primary becoming non-binding. He won by taking votes from Romney and from Newt, not from actually exciting the base and getting them to show up on caucus night. Also, just to put things into perspective, if you add up the turnout of both the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses, it was slightly less than the turnout in Iowa, which has less than one third the population of those two states. Put another way, only 1% of the population in those states turned out to make their preferences known, a very paltry turnout percentage. Santorum has yet to prove that he has any sort of mass appeal and whatever appeal he does have will be tested over the next few weeks as the Romney camp vilifies him for everything they can find in their opposition research of him.
Newt seems to get a much needed breather. Other than winning himself, this scenario is actually the best that could have been expected. If Romney had won the three races, things would probably be all but over. Now that Santorum has won in such an overwhelming fashion, he will be the target of all those negative ads that would normally be targeted at Newt. When you compare a thoroughly vetted Newt, with all his warts, versus a candidate who people think is a saint, it doesn't take a PhD in psychology to figure out why going to the saint would be tempting. Things will change after there will be wall to wall ads about Santorum's involvement in the K Street Project, his endorsement of Arlen Specter (who became a Democrat and helped usher in Obamacare), his "leadership PAC" (which gave a paltry 18% of its money to candidates and spent the rest on everyday expenses for Rick Santorum), his scam of a charity and his numerous "gaffes" which will help sour his appeal among women and independent voters (he blamed the church's child molestation scandal on Boston being liberal, he equated homosexuality with bestiality and he said radical feminism is to blame for the decline of the American family). Then of course is his record which is more liberal than Newt's. He voted against NAFTA, against Right to Work and for steel tariffs, as well as various earmarks (especially in election years). People turn away from candidates when they realize they weren't what they thought they were, let's see how Santorum's support holds up after people see that his squeeky clean image isn't so clean.
One thing is for sure, it is going to be an interesting couple of weeks.
Cross posted from libertarian neocon's blog.