The Durango Herald’s Joe Hanel, who has done an admirable job this week accurately covering the statements of GOP presidential primary candidates on tour in Colorado–in marked contrast to the inconsequential fluff prevailing from most local media:
Mitt Romney arrived in Denver on Tuesday ready for a victory party in the Colorado Republican caucuses. He left stunned, as Rick Santorum claimed victory…
The night belonged to Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, who also won the Minnesota caucus and a nonbinding primary in Missouri.
“This was a good night for Rick Santorum,” Romney said. “But I expect to become our nominee with your help.”
…Santorum addressed supporters in Missouri and said Tuesday’s results show what happens when Romney doesn’t outspend his rivals by a 5-to-1 margin in negative ads. As he did in Colorado throughout the last week, Santorum insisted that Romney is the wrong messenger for the GOP against President Barack Obama.
“I don’t stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama,” Santorum said.
Santorum fought hard for his showing in Colorado and invested more time here than any of the other three.
Statewide, attendance at this year’s Republican caucuses in Colorado was actually down several thousand from the 2008 total of over 70,000 participants–strongly arguing against the pre-11PM yesterday narrative of “great enthusiasm” among Colorado Republicans. In the end, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s retail-politics strength in rural areas, and big wins in conservative El Paso and working class Adams Counties put him over the top here. Against a Mitt Romney campaign machine that was unbeatable in 2008.
There’s no overstating it: we were Romney’s “firewall state” last night. We are broadly considered a bellwether state for the Rocky Mountain West, and if anything presuppose a built-in advantage for Romney due to religious affinity. This was a crushing–and telling–defeat.
And in the proud tradition of recent local GOP candidates such as Ken Buck and Dan Maes, Santorum’s win represents a tremendous repudiation of the Republican establishment in Colorado–which solidly backed Romney, and had no real expectation that he might lose. Yesterday, that who’s-who list of GOP establishment luminaries proved totally powerless to stop a Santorum caucus insurrection operating on a fraction of Romney’s resources.
And now, for the second time in this still-early primary season, the GOP’s putative “frontrunner” has lost resoundingly to his more conservative flavor-of-the-month. Between now and Super Tuesday, we expect the withering barrage of fire that has more or less knocked Newt Gingrich out of contention to be turned on Santorum, and it’s anybody’s guess as to whether he can survive. But we’re reticent now to simply discount Santorum as another flash in the pan. At the very least, we need to reevaluate the worth of James Dobson’s endorsement.
As for Romney? Well, yes, obviously, it’s time to panic.