Rick Santorum won all three races yesterday, and while the results were nonbinding, Santorum will use them as a repudiation of Romney's claims that he's the frontrunner.
The triple result amounted to a stinging denial of Mr. Romney’s candidacy from three states where Republicanism is defined by the evangelicals and Tea Party adherents he has struggled to court this year.
His disappointing night notwithstanding, Mr. Romney goes into the next round of primaries and caucuses much better financed than his opponents in what will be much more of a nationwide campaign, capped off by the 11 Super Tuesday competitions on March 6. But the enthusiasm in the race is no longer his alone; his front-runner’s label appears to have lost its shine.
Mr. Santorum’s victory in Missouri was symbolic. The vote will not affect the awarding of delegates, which will be decided at district and state conventions later this year. But more Republicans participated in the Missouri primary than in the Nevada caucuses. And his victory in Colorado was a genuine upset in a state that Mr. Romney easily carried in 2008.
Combined with the victory in Minnesota, it gave him an important lift that his campaign hoped would translate into an infusion of new donations and support from the conservative Republican voters — evangelicals and Tea Party adherents — who have told pollsters all year that they are searching for someone whom they view as a true conservative.
The victories were Mr. Santorum’s first since the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 — a victory awarded only after the fact. And he used them to reassert himself as the leading insurgent challenger to Mr. Romney, though he told cheering supporters at his headquarters in St. Charles, Mo., that he was setting his sights higher than that.
“I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” Mr. Santorum said after thanking God for getting him through the “dog days” of the campaign and the illness of his daughter Bella. “I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”
Newt Gingrich was all but a footnote yesterday and appears that his shelf-life as the alternative to Romney is over. Once again, Gingrich was not on the ballot and will be setting his sights on Ohio during Super Tuesday next month. That's a long time to wait, and both Santorum and Romney will have added to their tallies in the meantime.