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Santorum's low-turnout, symbolic Minnesota victory signals Republican dissatisfaction

Santorum is Minnesota's unofficial choice, but that could signal bad news for GOP prospects come November.
Santorum is Minnesota's unofficial choice, but that could signal bad news for GOP prospects come November.

Well, with Romney finishing a distant third, T-Paw is looking less influential than ever, isn't he?

Rick Santorum crushed his Republican presidential competitors during yesterday's Minnesota GOP caucus, but the victory is only as significant as the momentum it generates for his campaign in states that have more consequential primaries.

That's because Minnesota's caucus is non-binding. There are two more rounds of local GOP conventions before Minnesota officially selects a Republican nominee during the state convention coming up late this spring.

Consider 2008. That year, Romney trounced his competitors during the Minnesota caucus, winning 41 percent of the vote compared to second-place John McCain's 22 percent. But by the time the state convention came around in late May, McCain had emerged as the national choice, and the Minnesota delegates fell in line, awarding all 41 of the state's delegates to the Arizona senator.

Another factor mitigating the importance of Santorum's decisive Minnesota win was low voter turnout. This morning, NPR's Steve Inskeep mentioned that the percentage of Minnesota voters turning out for the GOP caucus was about two percent, prompting this wry response from MPR's Bob Collins:

Importantly, however, the Minnesota (and Missouri and Colorado) results show that a key swath of GOP voters are unsatisfied with the notion of Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential candidate. Furthermore, Gingrich's last-place Minnesota finish shows that the GOP's anti-Romney contingent is looking for yet another anyone-but-Romney alternative, and Santorum is the last option left standing.

As Salon's Alex Pareene writes:

Romney was far more popular with Minnesota Republicans four years ago.
Romney was far more popular with Minnesota Republicans four years ago.
Republican voters have realized (for the second or third time) that Romney is an aloof job-destroying multimillionaire rentier and Newt Gingrich is an erratic narcissist scam artist. Being mostly ignored turned out pretty well for Rick Santorum, whose repellant bigoted sanctimony reads as righteous piety to the die-hard evangelicals and old cranks actually showing up to vote in these increasingly depressing Republican contests.

Faced with uninspiring choices, the low turnout indicates many Minnesota Republicans stayed home last night. And almost half of those who turned out ended up supporting a far-right candidate who may be too divisive to defeat President Obama in a general election, prompting Minneapolis DFL operative Zack Farley to offer up the following analysis:

Meanwhile, in terms of pledged delegates , Romney continues to enjoy a large lead over the pack. Fueled by his victory in delegate-rich Florida, Romney already has secured 80 pledged delegates, compared to just 31 for second-place Gingrich, 15 for Ron Paul, and 10 for Minnesota's unofficial choice, Rick Santorum.


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