Mitt Romney won the much-watched Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll on Saturday, beating top rival Rick Santorum 38 percent to 31 percent. On Sunday, Santorum cried foul. "I don't try to rig straw polls," Santorum told CNN's Candy Crowley, explaining that for years, Ron Paul paid for supporters to come to CPAC, vote, and leave. "You have to talk to the Romney campaign and how many tickets they bought, we've heard all sorts of things." The Romney campaign accused Santorum of "making statements that aren't grounded in the truth," and noted that Romney also won the Maine caucuses on Saturday — he beat Paul by 194 votes, with 84 percent of the votes counted. Not so fast, said Team Paul: Maine won't be decided for a week because a local GOP official postponed the voting in a Paul-friendly county, supposedly because of the weather. How much should we make of Mitt's disputed victories?
CPAC barely matters, and Maine is suspect: CPAC losers always complain that the victor bought his win, says Libby Spencer at The Impolitic. Though it's never clear why anyone would bother buying a victory at the conservative activists' conference: The poll is "about as predictive as a coin toss." On the other hand, Paul's "alleged loss in Maine... smacks of establishment GOP manipulation." Postponing a caucus in a Paul stronghold over three inches of snow is "inarguably suspect."
"Santorum and Ron Paul cry foul"
Regardless, these wins can't mask Romney's weakness: Despite Romney's CPAC victory, says David Brody at CBN News, at the conference itself, there was "something else brewing among conservatives," and it wasn't Romney fever. Santorum scored a close second because his fight for a moral America has broader appeal than Romney's "flat and repetitive" litany on jobs and the economy. Watch out, Mitt: If Santorum can hang on, he'll "really catch fire."
"The CPAC results: What lurks beneath"
Let's not get too carried away: "In this yo-yo race," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post, "the punditocracy" keeps "over-interpreting or misinterpreting events." It happened again with Saturday's "relatively meaningless" contests. The GOP presidential race is just getting started, and "pretending there is certainty when there is none is akin to shouting 'Eureka!' upon discovering fool's gold." Let's just "sit back, be patient, and watch this contest play out."
"Romney wins a couple contests, confuses the media (again)"
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