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Tuesday's 'stunning' Santorum sweep: 6 takeaways
Just when Mitt Romney was getting comfortable, Rick Santorum shocks the political world with wins in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri
Rick Santorum stymied Mitt Romney's momentum on Tuesday, sweeping to victory in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, giving Santorum more total wins (four) than Romney (three).
Rick Santorum stymied Mitt Romney's momentum on Tuesday, sweeping to victory in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, giving Santorum more total wins (four) than Romney (three).
REUTERS/Sarah Conard
T

he Republican presidential race just got a lot more interesting. On Tuesday night, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) scored "stunning" upset wins in the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses, and in Missouri's nonbinding "beauty pageant" primary. It was a clean sweep nobody saw coming — "probably not even Rick Santorum," says The New Yorker's John Cassidy. As recently as a week ago, Mitt Romney was expected to win all three contests, and political analysts expected him to win Colorado even as the votes were being tallied. Here, six takeaways from Tuesday's surprising outcome:

1. Santorum scored big bragging rights
After his Jan. 3 win in Iowa, Santorum suffered a string of dispiriting third- and fourth-place finishes. But all of a sudden, he has now won four states, more than any of his GOP rivals. And he's the only candidate to notch wins in the electorally crucial Midwest. The cash-poor Santorum did it the hard way, too, through foot-pounding retail politics, says Alex Altman at TIME. It paid off: "In a single evening, he punctured the aura of inevitability that had gathered around Romney’s campaign," and toppled Newt Gingrich as the go-to not-Romney candidate. What he didn't do was win any delegates: Each of these three states will apportion their delegates later this year.

2. Romney's coronation is now on hold
Santorum's hat trick is "a stunning rebuke to Mitt Romney and the national media," says The New Yorker's Cassidy. And Romney's "horrible, horrible night" will have lasting consequences, says Erick Erickson at RedState. In three key swing states, conservative voters "sent a very clear signal": We do not like Romney. Indeed, the real "story of Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado is the stunning weakness of Mitt Romney," says Paul Begala at The Daily Beast. "His Super PAC outspent Santorum's by a 40-to-1 margin," and Santorum crushed him. That's "like the New York Yankees losing an exhibition game to a church-league softball team."

3. But Mitt is still favored to win the nomination
Tuesday was a bad night for the GOP frontrunner, but "barring a spectacular reversal in the months ahead," he will still "be anointed as the Republican nominee," says Thomas DeFrank in the New York Daily News. Things should get better for Romney as the contest moves into the friendlier territory of Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28, and then Super Tuesday on March 6, where "Romney's money advantage should help him plenty," says Jonathan Bernstein at A Plain Blog About Politics. For Santorum, "it's a long, long way from a very good night to actually becoming a plausible nominee. Much less the actual nominee."

4. Gingrich is toast
Newt "was a footnote in the three contests" Tuesday night, says Maggie Haberman at Politico. With little money and no momentum, "it's a bit hard to see how Gingrich is going to keep himself relevant in the coming weeks." He can't, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. "Gingrich's days as the leading not-Romney are just about over."

5. Republicans still aren't turning out to vote
"Are Republicans energized? Not if turnout is an indication," say Peter Hamby and John Helton at CNN. GOP voters came out in much smaller numbers on Tuesday than they did four years ago. The numbers "are so low as to be laughable," says John Hinderaker at PowerLine. In Minnesota, for example, fewer than 50,000 people participated in the caucuses; in the 2008 general election, 1,275,409 Minnesotans voted for Republican John McCain.

6. Geography is trumping history
The Republican race "appears to be turning into a regionally based contest," says The New Yorker's Cassidy, "with Santorum as the heartland candidate, Gingrich as the Southern candidate, and the Mittster as Mr. Everywhere Else — or so he hopes." What's striking is how much that map has changed in four years, says Politico's Haberman. In 2008, Romney won Colorado with a stunning 60 percent, but he lost to Santorum by 5 points on Tuesday, with 35 percent. Romney won Minnesota with 40.1 percent in 2008; this year, he came in an embarrassing, distant third, with 17 percent. What changed? In 2008, Romney was "the electable conservative alternative" to McCain. This year, he's almost become McCain: A centrist RINO.

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