Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum Bites Mitt "Dog on Roof" Romney, Taking Chunk Out of Electability Narrative

This post has been updated, and previously appeared under a different headline.

Poor Mitt Romney. The Republicans' kinda-sorta frontrunner just can't catch a break. After vanquishing his closest rival, Newt Gingrich, in two successive contests for the G.O.P. presidential nomination, Romney finds himself bested for a second, third and fourth time by the barely-funded Rick Santorum, an unlikely victor in the face of Romney's well-stocked campaign coffers. On Tuesday night, Santorum won the Missouri Republican presidential primary as well as caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado.

It was Santorum who robbed Romney of the victory that was called for the former Massachusetts governor the night of the Iowa caucuses. A second look at the ballots cast in Iowa showed Santorum to be the winner by a mere 34 votes. Romney has since been battling a somewhat soulless image, which wasn't helped when opponents seized upon the story of how Romney strapped his dog, in a cage, to the roof of the family car for a 12-hour drive.

Santorum is the rather untelegenic, far-right candidate who opposes not just abortion, but contraception, as well. He's famously anti-gay, having compared gay sex to bestiality in a 2003 interview with the Associated Press, in which he suggested that same-sex marriage would lead to the sanctioning of "man on dog" sex. He seems eager to bomb Iran, using as his rationale, as I reported from the campaign trail in New Hampshire, a false reading of the purported theological intentions of Iran's leaders, one that seems to be drawn from evangelical Christian end-times theology.

Last month, a cabal of religious-right leaders anointed Santorumas their not-so-secret weapon in stopping Romney from winning the nomination. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who spoke for the group, presided over a right-wing conference in October, the Values Voter Summit, which was something of a free-for-all attack on Romney for his Mormon faith, which the Southern Baptist Convention has deemed a "cult."

James Dobson, the retired leader of the Focus on the Family empire, has endorsed Santorum, as have other religious-right leaders, including the anti-feminist Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, American Values President Gary Bauer, and Maggie Gallagher of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. While former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has racked up a handful of high-profile religious-right endorsements, Santorum appears to be winning the endorsement contest among right-wing pundits, including Erick Erickson, Ed Morrissey and Michelle Malkin.

Low voter turnout in all three of Tuesday's contests suggests a lack of enthusiasm amid the G.O.P. base for the options they've been given. But make no mistake, Santorum's trouncing of Romney, even in contests that are largely for show, represents a significant wounding of the candidate once perceived as the inevitable nominee. (Romney is still likely to win the nomination, but as a weak candidate, thanks to the roughing up he's received at the hands of Gingrich and Santorum.)

Here are the breakdowns of Tuesday's contest, from CNN's report:

  • With 100% of the Missouri vote counted, Santorum had 55% to 25% for Romney and 12% for Paul, according to unofficial results. Gingrich didn't make the ballot in Missouri.
  • In Minnesota, Santorum got 45% of the vote to 27% for Paul, 17% for Romney and 11% for Gingrich, with 88% of the total counted, according to the secretary of state.
  • Colorado was the most competitive state of the day, with Santorum winning 40% of the vote to 35% for Romney, 13% for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 12% for Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Did you catch that Minnesota total? Romney actually came in third place -- behind Ron Paul.In a state whose caucuses Romney won during his 2008 presidential bid.

If there's any consolation for Romney to find in an otherwise dismal outcome, it's the fact that none of these contests actually award convention delegates -- as of yet -- to the winner, leaving Romney's weak front-of-the-pack position in tact. (Minnesota and Colorado will award their delegates, 40 and 36, respectively -- at state and county conventions down the line, and Missouri will hold a separate round of caucuses in March to determine which of the candidates wins its delegates.) But the storyline of Santorum defeating Romney in three contests of any kind in a single night promises to further erode the entire argument for his candidacy, that of "electability." While Santorum's triumph makes him hardly more likely to be the nominee, it does damage Romney enough to allow the candidacy of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to live another day.

So what did we learn from these contests?

  • That handfuls of people will turn out to vote for Santorum in contests that don't much matter in the delegate count, but nobody seems to love Romney enough to go out on a winter's night to bring him a box of chocolates.
  • That endorsements don't count for much, at least not in Missouri and Minnesota, where Romney counted big names among his backers, including former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the Land of 10,000 lakes, and Sen. Roy Blunt in the Show-Me State. Guess Missouri showed him.
AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan

Posted at February 7, 2012, 5:03pm

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