Three Santorum wins send ‘loud and louder’ message
By: Don Davis/State Capitol Bureau, Pine Journal
ST. PAUL – Rick Santorum gained momentum in the Republican presidential race Tuesday with a convincing Minnesota precinct caucus victory.
The former U.S. senator also won Missouri and Colorado contests.
Santorum won 45 percent of the Minnesota vote, with Ron Paul second, as more than 86 percent of Minnesota’s precincts reported just before midnight.
“Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota,” Santorum told a Tuesday night Missouri rally.
Many conservatives are unhappy with presumed front-runner Mitt Romney, who Santorum said supports policies similar to Democratic President Barack Obama.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania U.S. senator, said Minnesota and Missouri voters “were heard loud and louder all across the country.”
Santorum began campaigning in Iowa last year in near obscurity, but gradually gained momentum and after a recount won caucuses there last month.
Minnesota Republicans put Romney in third place, winning only a fraction of the votes he gained in a record-setting caucus turnout four years ago.
Unofficial returns showed U.S. Rep. Paul of Texas behind Santorum with 27 percent, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Romney with 17 percent and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia with 11 percent.
Most counties favored Santorum, with a few leaning toward Paul.
Reports from around the state indicated good attendance, but it did not appear to be the 60,000-plus that attended four years ago.
Minnesota Republicans said they want to unseat Obama.
“I’m here because I feel we’re at a point where something really has to be done, and now,” Jan Fournier of Duluth said.
Paul’s win in a Duluth precinct bothered at least one voter.
“This is the first time in 30 years I’ve seen our caucus throw away its vote on a candidate who’s not competitive,” Greg Steele said.
An East Grand Forks Republican had a couple of reasons why Santorum won.
“I just think he’s more of the conservative when it comes to most issues,” Jake Runzel said. “He doesn’t have to backtrack very often.”
Don Groninga of Worthington told a room full of 200 caucus-goers that he supports Santorum.
“We don’t need to compromise, folks,” Groninga said. “What we need is a warrior.”
The Minnesota caucuses awarded no delegates, like Tuesday’s Colorado caucuses and Missouri’s primary election.
In Missouri, Santorum had 55 percent of the vote with most votes counted, followed by Romney with 25 percent and Paul with 12 percent. Gingrich did not run in Missouri.
With almost all of Colorado’s precincts counted, that state’s officials announced Santorum edged Romney. Four years ago, Romney easily won Colorado.
Paul told supporters in Golden Valley, Minn., that he was happy with Minnesota’s results.
“We had a very, very strong second place, and it is going to continue,” he told hundreds of chanting supporters.
“When the dust settles,” the libertarian said, there is a good chance of getting many Minnesota delegates.
Romney, speaking in Denver, said he still expects to be the GOP nominee.
However, he admitted, “this was a good night for Rick Santorum.”
Like Santorum and Paul, Romney spent most of his speech – more subdued than the other two – attacking Obama.
Santorum campaign official Chuck Laudner, in St. Paul, said no state is a “must win,” but campaigns are looking to “continue to grow your base.”
After a delayed win in Iowa, Santorum has built up his campaign coffers, Laudner said, so he can compete in states where he needs money to buy television commercials.
All four GOP hopefuls made Minnesota stops in the past few days after all but ignoring the state earlier.
Santorum spoke in Blaine, north of Minneapolis, Tuesday afternoon, urging Minnesota Republicans to not “settle for second best.” He told supporters that Romney may have a lot of money in his campaign, but he is not inspiring.
The ex-senator won last month’s Iowa caucuses, after a recount, but a lack of money kept him from being as competitive in the following caucuses and primaries.
The only candidate staying in Minnesota after the caucuses was Paul, who attended Coon Rapids and Maple Grove caucuses in the northwestern Twin Cities area before attending a post-caucus rally in Golden Valley.
Paul spent the most time in Minnesota before the caucuses, hoping to make the state his first win. He finished fourth four years ago.
Romney leads the race nationally after several primary and caucus wins, but he is not the conservatives’ favorite.
The GOP presidential delegate count stands at Romney, 101; Gingrich, 32; Santorum, 17; and Paul, nine, with 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination.
In Eagan last week, Romney attacked President Barack Obama, but did not mention his GOP opponents by name. He compared their long government tenures to his business background.
Gingrich is the second-place candidate nationally, but polls show he carries high unfavorable marks.
The former speaker has been relentless in his attacks on Romney, in particular. In a Bloomington speech Monday night, he compared himself to Ronald Reagan.
Since none of the three Tuesday events carried any delegates with them, many national commentators – and some in Minnesota – questioned their importance.
“Breathless anticipation builds 4 tonight’s straw poll contest which has no value and is non-binding in the selection of the next President,” state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
Nate Silver of The New York Times wrote Tuesday that the Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri contests “provide an important test of how robust Mitt Romney’s coalition is on less favorable terrain than in states like New Hampshire or Nevada. And they could potentially revitalize the campaign of one of Mr. Romney’s opponents, Rick Santorum.”
The Republican National Committee even distributed a news release pointing out none of Tuesday’s three contests awarded delegates.
Commentators who say Minnesota and Colorado caucuses are important point to the fact that they are similar to Iowa’s process, which always gains international attention for months.
Minnesota GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge said his office has talked to international media, and national media have reported on the state caucuses.
Peter Passi of the Duluth News Tribune, Ryan Johnson of the Grand Forks Herald and Ryan McGaughey of the Worthington Daily Globe contributed to this story. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.