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Caucuses, Santorum deal Romney 'inevitability' a blow

Don’t pack away the sweater vests after Rick Santorum's Tuesday sweep of Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado.  The AP’s take on last night’s Santorum-o-rama, by David Espo and Phil Elliott, says: “A resurgent Rick Santorum won Minnesota's Republican caucuses with ease Tuesday night, relegating GOP front-runner Mitt Romney to a distant third-place finish that raised fresh questions about his ability to attract ardent conservatives at the core of the party's political base."

Rachel Stassen-Berger at the Star Tribune sums up: "Presidential candidate Rick Santorum won decisively in Minnesota's GOP caucuses on Tuesday, clobbering rival Mitt Romney in a state Romney had won easily just four years ago. With most of the Minnesota vote in, Santorum won 45 percent of the GOP straw poll, followed by Ron Paul at 27 percent. Romney placed a distant third, while Newt Gingrich placed last. "Conservatism is alive and well today in Missouri and Minnesota," a triumphant Santorum said in a victory speech from Missouri. The former Pennsylvania senator contrasted himself not with his GOP rivals, but with President Obama. "I don't stand here as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," Santorum said. "I stand here as the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."

NPR’s blog, written by Eyeder Peralta, says: “In his speech from Golden Valley, Minn., Texas Rep. Ron Paul vowed to continue his presidential campaign. Paul came in second in Minnesota and third in Missouri. Paul argued that his campaign is playing long ball, adding up delegates little by little. But he also said that this campaign has acheived something significant. ‘Our views are not only being accepted, they're being sought out,’ he said. Then he went on to talk about his platform: A return to the gold standard, the curbing of entitlement programs, and the overhaul of ‘the foreign policy that gives us these perpetual wars.’ ... In his victory speech, [Rick Santorum] the former Pennsylvania senator shifted his focus from the Republican field to President Obama. Saying that Obama is a president who is not listening, Santorum said, ‘[Obama] thinks he knows better. He thinks he's smarter than you.’ Santorum said that when it came to health care, the environment and the Wall Street bailouts, Obama and his elite friends think they know better.” Lord, I hope so.

Lee Anne Goodman of The Canadian Press writes: “Public Policy Polling, the pollster that put Mr. Santorum in front in both Missouri and Minnesota, says he does well with the Midwest’s Tea Party activists, evangelicals and voters who describe themselves as ’very conservative.’ ‘While Romney and Gingrich have hammered each other in recent weeks, Santorum’s been largely left alone and he’s benefiting from that now,’ Tom Jensen wrote on the PPP website. ‘It appears right-leaning Republican voters are shifting toward Santorum as their primary alternative to Romney.’ ”

Aaron Blake at the Washington Post says: “Tuesday was an embarrassing night for Mitt Romney, and nowhere was that more true than in Minnesota. This was a state where the former Massachusetts governor had nearly everything going for him:
• He won the state in the 2008 presidential race by 18 points.
• He had the backing of the state’s two most high-profile Republicans, former governor Tim Pawlenty and former senator Norm Coleman. This is in contrast to his last two wins in Florida and Nevada, where the most high-profile Republicans kept their powder dry.                       
• And unlike the Missouri primary, which he also lost on Tuesday, Newt Gingrich was on the ballot in Minnesota, potentially stealing votes from Rick Santorum.
But despite all that, with nearly half of the vote in, Romney is in a distant third place, far behind even second-place Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and taking only about one in every six votes in tonight’s Minnesota caucuses. Santorum, meanwhile, is flirting with taking 50 percent of the vote. As of now, Romney is not winning the vote in any of the state’s 87 counties.”

Michael Memoli at the Los Angeles Times says: “Forty delegates will ultimately be allocated by Minnesota Republicans. But like Colorado, the state's caucuses are only the start of that process. Congressional district conventions will be in mid-April, and the state convention is on May 5. Still, Santorum can lay claim to a swath of the heartland, with victories also in Iowa's caucuses and the Missouri ‘beauty contest’ primary. The Romney campaign has downplayed the significance of Tuesday's votes, arguing that he ‘is not going to win every contest.’ ‘Unlike the other candidates, our campaign has the resources and organization to keep winning over the long run,’ political director Rich Beeson wrote in a memo to reporters Tuesday.”

Jim Ragsdale’s story for the Strib looks at fervor over GOP core issues and includes this: “This could be a banner year for constitutional amendments, which must be approved by voters before they take effect. An amendment defining marriage as only the union of a man and woman will appear on the November ballot, and a photo ID requirement for voters is expected to pass the Legislature this session and go before voters in November. GOP activists on Tuesday were expected to debate other prospective amendments, including limits on union power known as ‘right to work,’ allowing workers to opt out of union membership and dues; a proposal to avoid future state shutdowns; limits on taxes and spending and even in the way judges are selected. Some of those may be passed on as resolutions and appear in the party's 2012 platform. So far, the anti-gay marriage amendment and photo ID proposal have attracted the most attention, and caucus night was an initial organizing opportunity for both sides on these issues.”

The AP also has a piece on quotes from caucus-goers: “Nancy and Tom Hill, of Andover, were at their first caucus and backing Ron Paul. They said Santorum was their second choice. ‘I've evolved over the years from Democrat to independent to Republican,’ said Nancy Hill, an assistant to a financial planner. ‘But I'm ready to evolve back to independent, because I support the tea party and limited government, and I think there's too many Republicans who aren't worried about that. Ron Paul is the only one who's really talking about reducing the size of government.’ Added Tom Hill, who owns a small business: ‘We need to get back to the Constitution.' "

Jon Collins’ MPR story does a bit of the same, including the likes of these: “Ed Bird said he supported Santorum at the Coon Rapids caucus because he feels the candidate is the most conservative of the bunch. ‘I think he's absolutely got more conservative values,’ Bird said. ‘He's a good religious person, a strong person of conviction.’ But Bird worries that Santorum can't beat Obama. ... Charlie Brewer in Coon Rapids reluctantly supported Romney in the straw poll because he feels he's the most electable. ‘I really feel like we don't have an ideal candidate but we can't keep sliding the way we're sliding,’ Brewer said of the Republican contest.”

In non-caucus news, the Amy Senser hit-and-run case had a curious development Tuesday. Dave Hanners at the PiPress reports: “Although prosecutors contend Amy Senser returned to the scene of her fatal hit-and-run minutes after it happened to survey the damage, an eyewitness who thinks she saw the woman's vehicle described a driver who looked markedly different, according to search warrant affidavits unsealed today. Senser was 45 and had brown hair at the time of the incident, but the eyewitness described a driver who was about 30 and had ‘light colored hair,’ according to the affidavits. Senser, wife of former Viking player-turned-restaurateur Joe Senser, had a daughter who was 26 at the time and had light-colored hair — and had lived less than two miles from the scene of the accident, noted the Minnesota State Patrol trooper who wrote the affidavits. ... To convict Senser, prosecutors must prove she knew she had struck somebody. In a motion he filed last week asking a judge to throw out the case, Nelson said the woman was unaware she'd been in an accident. Such a lack of knowledge is a legal defense to the charge. Prosecutors contend there is circumstantial evidence Senser had been drinking the night of the accident. The defense has not denied the claim, but has argued that hypothetically, if she had been impaired by alcohol she would have been even less likely to know she had hit somebody.”

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