On Tuesday, Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri will host statewide elections in what will certainly be the most important 24 hours – until Super Tuesday – of the 2012 Republican primary. Interestingly, while there are technically 76 delegates up for grabs in Colorado and Minnesota (Missouri will not deliver any delegates), none will be actually be awarded until next month. The Los Angeles Times has the scoop:
But regardless of the outcome, the action will be largely symbolic. The voting won't result in the selection of delegates required to support a particular presidential candidate at the party's national convention.
In Missouri, voters will participate in what's known as a "beauty contest" primary that has no connection to the delegate process. A light turnout is forecast.
The election was required under state law, and the Missouri Legislature failed to approve a measure to move the date into next month.
Voting before March 1 would violate Republican Party rules, if the primary results were binding --- resulting in a penalty that would cost Missouri half of its delegate slots at the convention in Tampa in late August. State Republicans will hold caucuses instead, starting at the precinct level on St. Patrick's Day.
Minnesota and Colorado Republicans will avoid similar penalties by waiting until March or April to select their delegates. The two states will report the results of a straw poll of caucus attendees tonight
These facts notwithstanding, the results tonight could change the trajectory of the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Since polling has been sporadic in recent months, each candidate is looking to exceed expectations and gain some much-needed momentum. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, for example, desperately needs to prove -- as the nominal frontrunner -- he’s coalescing Tea Partiers, conservatives and moderates behind his candidacy. Nevertheless, he faces an especially tough contest in Minnesota, which I suspect will be the most closely watched race of the evening. Indeed, if Rick Santorum wins both Minnesota and Missouri, (he will almost certainly win the latter since Newt Gingrich will not appear on the ballot), the former Pennsylvania Senator could emerge as the strongest and most appealing conservative candidate in the GOP field.
The question, however, is what happens if Newt Gingrich loses all three primaries? Though he’s made it abundantly clear he will stay in the race until the Republican convention, an exceedingly poor showing tonight could severely undermine his chances of clinching the nomination. That being said, none of the candidates have campaigned particularly hard in Colorado, Minnesota or Missouri. And since zero delegates will be awarded tonight, the former Speaker is perhaps better off spending his time courting voters in Ohio, a crucially important battleground state.
In any case, all polls will officially close tonight at 9:00 pm (EST). As always, be sure to check out the Townhall elections results page starting at 7:00 pm!