Rich Galen
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There were election events last night in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado.

Missouri was a primary, but it was a state-wide beauty contest. No delegates were at stake.

I'm not certain why the state of Missouri thought it might be a good idea to have what was essentially a spring training election costing millions of dollars, but there you are.

Rick Santorum won the Missouri contest. Gingrich wasn't organized enough to even get on the Missouri ballot.

Colorado and Minnesota had caucuses - and we know how well those have gone so far - but there are 36 delegates in play in Colorado and 40 in Minnesota.

When the day began the delegate count was:

Mitt Romney - 100

Newt Gingrich - 35

Ron Paul - 15

Rick Santorum - 11

A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to claim the nomination, so we have a way to go.

If I had been advising Romney (which I am not) I would have said, "Let's let Santorum win Missouri. There are no delegates at stake, but he gets the bragging rights and can claim two wins in the first seven states. That means Gingrich has to deal with Santorum before he can deal with us. Thus, losing to Santorum in Missouri is a win."

I know that sounds likes a three-bank billiards shot, but that's how we think.

Santorum then gets to make his case that Conservatives have already given Gingrich two looks (early December and again in South Carolina) and it is time for them to give Santorum a second glance.

In his victory speech last night, Rick Santorum spent a great deal of time on pointing out his differences with Barack Obama and gave only a passing reference to Mitt Romney, a fairly significant change in his public approach.

Gingrich, out of the discussion in these three states, begins to fade into the background. It will be interesting to see how he attempts to elbow his way back into the discussion.

The Romneys did not want to lose either Minnesota or Colorado which do have delegates at stake.

Remember Tim Pawlenty? He is the former Governor of Minnesota and was the first candidate to drop out of the GOP primary cycle based on his bad performance in the Iowa straw poll. Not a real caucus or primary, but a straw poll.

Pawlenty has since endorsed, and has become a senior advisor to, the Romney campaign.

Romney lost Pawlenty's home state of Minnesota to Santorum, and maybe to Ron Paul. I would suggest Romney thank Pawlenty for stopping by and give him bus fare home.

Meanwhile over in Colorado, if Romney pulls out a victory it appears it will be close. That would give him two of four wins so far in February. But even if he does win in Colorado, Santorum's two wins last night give him a great deal of positive press for the next three weeks because the Arizona and Michigan primaries aren't scheduled until February 28th.

The only debate this month is in Arizona on the 22nd, which will Gingrich's only opportunity to get in the game. With Santorum riding a wave based upon last night's results Gingrich's raison d'être becomes very thin, indeed.

Even if Romney wins in Colorado, he will suffer the slings and arrows of having done so badly in Minnesota and Missouri and those darts will fly for the next three weeks.

The story line on Romney since the beginning of this cycle has been the GOP base is not just looking for an alternative, but is on a Indiana Jones-like quest for someone else.

Remember the delegate awards from last night will be proportional, and with Gingrich a non-starter, Romney may actually increase his lead on the field, but that will be a difficult tale for the Romneys to tell.

Ron Paul came in second in Minnesota and claimed there would be more good news when the Maine caucuses on Saturday. He has stated over and over again he was going to concentrate on the caucus states and, while that strategy will not lead to the nomination, it certainly makes him a significant player.

As I may have mentioned before, I have to write three days a week. Chaos is my friend.

The GOP nominating process is my friend.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to the CNN election results page and the definition of raison d'être.

Also a pretty good Mullfoto from home-town Alexandria and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

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Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.