Rick Santorum decisively swept all three primary contests last night, shattering the myth of inevitability that presumed front-runner Mitt Romney has tried to construct. While the vote in Missouri assigned no delegates, the results there and in Colorado and Minnesota nonetheless show a clear refutation of Romney in states that will be battlegrounds in the general election.
But there is even more troubling news for Romney. As ThinkProgress has noted, Republican turnout has been down in virtually every primary so far, suggesting a lack of enthusiasm for Romney and the rest of the GOP field. But last night’s results are far more severe. Turnout was not just down but down tremendously, and in many places, Romney was unable to capture anywhere close to as many votes as he won in 2008.
Romney won Colorado with 60 percent of the vote four years ago, and its demographics favored the candidate, but this year, Romney won just 34.9 percent of the vote, coming 6 points shy of Santorum. In Minnesota, which Romney won with 41 percent of the vote in 2008, he won just 16.9 percent last night — coming in third behind Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). And in Missouri, Romney was down slightly, from 29 percent in 2008 to 25.3 percent last night.
Looking at the vote totals, instead of percentages, which takes into account voter turnout, the numbers are even worse for Romney, as this graphic produced by ThinkProgress’ Adam Peck shows:
In some places, Romney’s collapse was even more stunning. As the New York Times’ Nate Silver noted, “Romney’s stronger areas in [Colorado] were associated with turnout declines of about 20 percent. But turnout was steady or slightly up in places where Rick Santorum did well.” For instance, in Pueblo County, where turnout was actually up, Romney took just 27 percent of the vote — a huge drop from the 62 percent he won in 2008. And in the Denver suburbs, which Romney won, he was still way down from 2008. In Douglas County, Romney went from 72 percent in 2008 to 46 percent; in Arapaho County, he went from 66 percent to 45 percent; and in Jeffferson County, he went from 65 percent to 39 percent.
Romney won comfortably in earlier primaries in Florida and Nevada, but only after drowning his competitors in millions of dollars of negative advertising. Romney’s campaign did not invest heavily in last night’s primaries, suggesting the candidate may have hard time winning on his own, without spending huge amounts to destory his competition in every state.
The results also seem to confirm the findings of a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, which showed that the more people learn about Mitt Romney, the less they like him.