Guy Benson

What a night for Rick Santorum, who shocked the political world by winning all three of Tuesday's presidential contests.  Even though no delegates were technically awarded based on the results in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota, Santorum's clean sweep slammed the breaks on Mitt Romney's momentum, and again cast the frontrunner's inevitability into serious doubt.  An ebullient  -- and perhaps even slightly surprised -- Santorum greeted cheering supporters in the Show Me State, declaring that "conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota."  The former Senator delivered his victory speech before Colorado fell into his column, which represented the biggest stunner of the night, by far:
 


Breitbart TV has the rest of the speech, which was delivered without notes or prepared remarks.  On one hand, it's clear that Santorum is fluent in conservatism.  He has lived and breathed the movement for his entire career, a few voting record blemishes notwithstanding.  On the other hand, tonight was a big stage for him, and a tighter, more focused message would have served him well.  Delivery aside (and style points can be fixed) Santorum's message was strong.  He hit President Obama and Romney on healthcare.  He stuck a chord with conservatives by deriding the president's arrogance ("he thinks he's smarter than you").  And he slammed Obama's recent unconstitutional mandate rulings that erode religious freedom.  Santorum was outspent and out-organized, yet he still pulled off a huge night.  I'd be willing to bet his coffers will start to fill up tomorrow; ballot box success tends to breed fundraising prowess.  As February unfolds ahead of March and Super Tuesday, one thing -- and maybe only one thing -- is clear: This race ain't over.

Another minor winner tonight is Ron Paul, who clinched second place in Minnesota's caucuses.  This represents Paul's first second top-two finish this year, although where he goes from here isn't clear.  Now, onto the evening's losers.  Mitt Romney seemed to be cruising after wins in Florida and Nevada, but his journey to Tampa has been jolted by a distant second place finish in Missouri (where Santorum won every single county) and by coming in third in Minnesota (how's that Pawlenty endorsement working out?).  The governor gave a workmanlike concession speech, congratulating Santorum on his wins before quickly pivoting to criticisms of Obama.  He also flashed a quick tell of his upcoming 'sink Santorum' strategy, which will involve attacks on Washington insiders and the former Senator's dearth of executive experience.  Although they would have loved to have taken Missouri or Minnesota, Colorado is the lost prize that really stings for Team Romney; they were fully expecting a relatively smooth win there.  Not only did they end up losing the Centennial State, it wasn't even that close.  Wow.  One minor side note: After his brief address, Romney worked the rope line, where he dodged a "glitter bomb" attack from a Leftist.  Secret Service agents rushed the young perpetrator out of the room:
 


 

Tuesday's titanic loser was Newt Gingrich.  Ahead of the results, his campaign attempted to project a sense of insouciance by holding rallies in Ohio and releasing statements downplaying the importance of this week's contents.  After Santorum's monster showing, no one's going to buy that act.  Yes, Missouri's primary was totally non-binding, and yes, the two caucuses didn't assign any delegates.  But votes are votes, and votes dictate momentum.  Newt's entire rationale for his continued candidacy is that he's the only conservative alternative who is viable against the former Massachusetts governor.  Santorum has now carried four states, compared to Gingrich's lone victory in South Carolina.  Santorum's process argument against Newt will now be twofold:  First, scoreboard.  Second, even though it was essentially a beauty contest, I thumped Romney one-on-one in a swing state -- where you failed to even qualify for the ballot.  That's a compelling one-two punch.  Rick's team has ballot access issues of its own to contend with, but for now, Gingrich's insistence that he's "the guy" to carry the Not Romney banner is less convincing than ever.


Up Next: Arizona and Michigan on the 28th, with a debate six days earlier in Mesa, AZ.  Both states are thought to be favorable terrain for Romney, but who really knows at this point?  This cycle has shown that conventional wisdom can shift in a nanosecond, so the next three weeks will feel like a political eternity.  (I should also note that Maine, with its unusual caucus process and handful of delegates, finishes voting this weekend). 


UPDATE - I'm seeing a lot of analysis online and on television regarding Romney's poor showing in Colorado vis-a-vis his 2008 numbers, when he coasted to a blow-out win.  These comparisons ignore a significant paradigm, and are therefore pretty useless.  In 2008, Mitt Romney emerged as the anti-McCain, anti-squish candidate.  Today, Romney has supplanted McCain in that dynamic, and Santorum and Gingrich are battling to be the '08 Romney of '12. 


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography