Wow. Rick Santorum is thus far thrashing Mitt Romney in all three states being contested tonight -- the beauty contest in Missouri -- no delegates at stake, but an incredibly important state for Republicans in the general election -- and allready called for Santorum -- and the caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado. It's early going in the latter two and I don't yet have enough sense of where the vote is coming from, but it looks to me like Santorum could run the table.
This is a pretty stunning setback for Romney and suggests as many of us have noted over the last few weeks just how weak a front runner he is. Still, I don't see how anyone but Romney can prevail, due both to money and organization, but it doesn't say much for your organization -- or the product you are trying to sell if you get steamrolled in three different places by a guy as week as Santorum.
Update: Santorum has indeed taken both Missouri and Minnesota. It looks like Romney is going to finish third in Minnesota, with a mere 16% of the vote thus far, as opposed to the 41% he drew in 2008. Amazingly, Gingrich has had an even worse night. Not on the ballot in Missouri and a dismal fourth in Minnesota. Suddenly instead of talk about Santorum getting out of the race, it is going to be Gingrich who looks like the conservative spoiler.
I would imagine it would be a little chilling in the Romney camp to contemplate an evening in which he has sustained two 30 point losses to Rick Santorum.
(I wish I could get some updates on Colorado -- no one seems to have them.)
Further Update: Yes indeed, Santorum got the hat trick. This is a sign of Romney's serious weakness among the conservative base. Like poor infantry in warfare, Romney can only prevail by using the heavy artillery of television advertising. There is little spontaneous affection for him -- indeed, one is struck by the degree to which support he enjoyed in 2008 in places like Colorado and Minnesota has seemingly evaporated. I am very curious to see the reaction to this is among the Fox News set and within the right wing blogosphere. Again, I don't think he can be stopped -- once the primaries resume in earnest, Romney's money -- and his opponents lack thereof -- can be brought to bear and he will likely begin winning again. But I would be pretty unhappy if I were a Republican to be stuck with a candidate who cannot win among his own if he takes his foot off the gas for a minute.