5 Key Factors to Watch in Mo., Minn., Colo. GOP Contests

Tuesday, 07 Feb 2012 02:28 PM

By Dan Weil

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With Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado having Republican presidential contests Tuesday, it’s shaping up to be a great day for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a mediocre day for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and a potentially poor day for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Following are five factors Politico suggests keeping an eye on as you watch the returns.
  • Santorum’s opening — Public Policy Polling surveys put Santorum in first place in Minnesota and Missouri and a strong second in Colorado. Minnesota is deeply conservative, with plenty of evangelicals and social conservatives. That makes it resemble Iowa, the state of Santorum’s only victory so far. Romney won here in 2008, but that was when he presented himself as the conservative alternative to Sen. John McCain. Romney surrogate and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty noted Monday that Minnesota caucus voters “gravitate toward the perceived most conservative candidate.” Santorum is in strong shape in Missouri. Gingrich isn’t on the ballot, making Santorum the only conservative alternative to Romney. And the state has plenty of evangelicals. A strong showing for Santorum is very important, given his sluggish performance in recent primaries. Success would allow him to argue that Romney’s nomination isn’t a fait accompli and that Gingrich isn’t the only viable conservative alternative to the front-runner.
  • Romney’s Colorado performance — The former Massachusetts governor won easily here in 2008, and polls show him well ahead this time around. If Romney doesn’t come through here, he’s in big trouble. His mantle of invincibility would go right out the window. The best outcome for Romney obviously would be a triple sweep, but it’s difficult to imagine that Santorum’s recent surge would suddenly reverse as voters enter the polling booth.
  • Ron Paul and the caucuses — The Texas congressman has focused his efforts on caucus states that allocate their delegates proportionally so he can amass enough delegates to be a factor at the Republican convention. But Paul registered a weak performance in Nevada’s caucuses Saturday, failing to meet lofty expectations. So now he has to show some strength in Colorado and Minnesota to maintain his relevance in the race. Paul would seem to have a better chance in Minnesota than Colorado. He received 16 percent support in the North Star State in 2008, while drawing only 9 percent in the Centennial State.
  • Newt’s night — Things aren’t looking too good for the former House speaker, who has lost his mojo since winning the South Carolina primary Jan. 21. He’s not even spending time in one the three states Tuesday, campaigning in Ohio instead. Gingrich didn’t make it on to the ballot in Missouri, giving a nice boost to Santorum, his chief rival for conservative support. The other two states aren’t shaping up well for him, either. He may place fourth in Minnesota and a distant third in Colorado. Furthermore, Gingrich has to wait until Feb. 22 for the next debate — his strong suit. The next two primaries after Tuesday come Feb. 28 in Arizona and Michigan, where Romney is favored.
  • Southwest Missouri Arizona Sen. John McCain won the state in 2008 in a close victory over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Romney. But Huckabee cleaned everyone’s clock in this part of the Show Me State, often called “the buckle of the Bible Belt.” So you’ll be able to figure out the depth of evangelicals’ opposition to Romney through the results in Southwest Missouri. In South Carolina, Gingrich attracted more support from evangelicals in the northern part of the state than Gingrich. If Santorum is unable to pick up that support here with Gingrich absent, the former Pennsylvania senator has a problem.
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