I was getting ready to write up my belated reaction to Santorum’s three wins, but I see that Michael has already summed it up:
Romney is currently in the McCain position. And Santorum is in Romney’s position four years ago.
A quick review of the 2008 results mostly confirms this. McCain did not do very well in Minnesota or Colorado four years ago. Missouri was the exception, where McCain narrowly defeated Huckabee in 2008. The worst news for Romney is that he fell short of his 2008 percentage in Missouri by four points, but this is offset by the complete irrelevance of the Missouri primary for the selection of delegates. Romney is running into similar difficulties in these states that McCain encountered last time. The main difference is that these early February contests took place on the previous cycle’s Super Tuesday, which is why Romney’s strong 2008 showings in Minnesota and Colorado availed him nothing. Romney was cleaning up in caucus states at this time four years ago, and McCain was beating him in every large non-Southern primary. While McCain effectively clinched the nomination with his other wins around the country on February 5, it appears that Romney will have to wait until next month to do the same.
We can say definitively, I believe, that Republicans really dislike Mitt Romney.
I would like to believe that. They certainly should dislike him, but one weird thing about Romney in this election is that his unfavorability among Republicans nationally is not that high. According to Gallup, both Paul and Santorum have slightly higher unfavorable numbers and lower favorable numbers, and overall Romney’s fav/unfav is 66/25. There are Republicans who deeply dislike Romney, but there aren’t that many of them. Romney’s problem is that he generates so little enthusiasm among the ones that like him.
Romney has tried to position himself squarely in the center of the Republican electorate, and he has been successful, but in some states that makes Romney the lukewarm water that Republican voters want to spew out of their mouths. Romney’s support has come mostly from “somewhat conservative” and moderate voters. If there had been any exit polling done, my guess is that it would have shown that there were a lot more “very conservative” voters and caucus-goers last night than in many of the previous contests.
Update: Michael Tomasky compares Romney’s numbers from 2008 and last night to support his argument about Romney as a weak front-runner, which is fine, but just look at how much turnout declined compared to four years ago:
Missouri: Four years ago, Mitt Romney got about 172,000 votes out of 589,000 cast. Last night, Romney got around 64,000 out of roughly 233,000 cast.
Minnesota: Four years ago, Romney drew 26,000 votes out of 63,000 cast. Last night—just 8,000 out of around 47,000 cast.
Colorado: In 2008 Romney won 42,000 votes out of 70,000 cast. Last night he got 23,000 votes out of 65,000 cast.
The lack of enthusiasm I was talking about is probably part of this. Four years ago, these events all took place on Super Tuesday when the race still seemed to be competitive. This year, there are three non-binding events that don’t coincide with the larger primary elections elsewhere in the country, and for the last week it seemed that the main competition to Romney in Gingrich was pretty much beaten after Florida and Nevada. No wonder turnout was down. A lot of people concluded that these votes wouldn’t have much significance, and I’m not sure they were wrong.