Despite being defeated in a near-20 point rout during his 2006 reelection bid, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum managed to win the Republican presidential nominating contests held in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri on Tuesday night.
All three are absolutely meaningless in terms of delegates as these will be rewarded at each state's convention later this year. However, the victories bode very well for Santorum's campaign momentum, and disastrously for resigned House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The latter is seeing his tattered right-wing coalition's theoconservative wing wooed by the out, loud, and proud church-state integration message of Santorum's platform. If this keeps up, Gingrich should be done on or before Super Tuesday.
The real question, though, is how does this all factor for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney? He is still the undisputed frontrunner to be the GOP's standard bearer against incumbent President Barack Obama in the fall, but there is no real excuse for his defeat in Colorado. Considering that he won the state with roughly 60% of the vote in 2008 and lost it by a slim margin this time around, he has a real problem developing. As with any problem, though, both a crisis and an opportunity are presented.
Romney can choose to move farther right on social policy, a strong suit had by Santorum, and to a lesser extent Gingrich. If this path is chosen, however, he will surely implode as his natural inclinations toward moderation are apparent through his records in the public and private sectors. People may dislike a certain candidate for his or her views, but they will despise the same individual for being a charlatan.
Alternatively, Romney can opt to champion himself as what he so obviously is; a pragmatist capable of dealing with America's multitude of crises. He can easily carve a niche as the sane, sensible man caught between two ideologues. This persona will do him very well in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Pacific West; regions he must claim handily to beat his two main opponents. Looking forward, this appears to be his best chance for a relatively easy ride to Tampa.