This Week in the Race for the GOP Presidential Nomination

This week will be the busiest that we’ll see in the race for the Republican presidential nomination this month. Coloradans and Minnesotans will be headed to the caucuses today while Missourians will be voting in the nonbinding primary that precedes their March 17 caucuses. We can also expect to see the results of the Maine caucuses this Saturday. After this week, we’ll see only a handful of caucuses and primaries in Guam, Arizona, Michigan, and Washington before Super Tuesday on March 6.

Public Policy Polling shows former Governor Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) with a comfortable lead in Colorado with 37%. Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) trails Romney with 27% while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.) clock in with 21% and 13% respectively. It looks like we can expect another big win for Romney in the Centennial State.

The race could get a little more interesting in Minnesota, Missouri, and Maine. Santorum leads the field in a tight race for the North Star State, but that race is still very much up in the air with a range of only 13% between Santorum and Paul, who is polling in fourth place. Santorum looks to be headed for a win in the Show-Me State’s nonbinding primary; he leads with 45% to Romney’s 32%. Meanwhile, Politico is calling the race for the Pine Tree State a two man race between Romney and Paul.

If these numbers hold, what could all of this mean for the race going forward?

For Romney, this week could be a bit of a mixed bag. Victories in Colorado and Maine would bring a total of five primary and caucus wins and will provide valuable electability ammunition. Romney has so far won in New Hampshire, Florida, and Nevada — all swing states. Wins in Colorado and Maine, also swing states, will enable the campaign to make the case that Romney is uniquely positioned to compete with President Obama in pivotal general election battleground states.

On the other hand, though, potential Santorum victories in Minnesota and Missouri would continue depriving Romney of inevitability status — especially since the North Star and Show-Me States could also prove to be general election battlegrounds. The emergence of Santorum as a contender could force Romney to confront more substantive issues during future primary debates, such as the specifics of RomneyCare and his chameleonic history with social issues like reproductive choice and same-sex marriage. A strong showing or even an upset by Paul in Maine, on Romney’s New England home turf, could also be a major setback.

For his part, Paul is extremely unlikely to win the Republican presidential nomination. That scenario will become even more far-fetched if the libertarian lion doesn’t pick up at least one victory this week. But a strong showing in Maine and perhaps Minnesota would give Paul justification for remaining in the race. Given his unique fundraising abilities Paul could still remain in the race for the long haul, picking up enough delegates to force both a convention speech and a seat at the table for his supporters.

Meanwhile, this week could prove devastating for the Gingrich campaign. So far Gingrich has picked up only one victory in South Carolina. Should Santorum emerge victorious from either Minnesota or Missouri, or both, he will have two or three wins under his belt. A second place showing by Santorum in Colorado would further the idea that Santorum has emerged as the new conservative alternative to Romney. Santorum victories could leave Gingrich badly and perhaps irreparably damaged heading into Super Tuesday. Whether Gingrich’s fall and Santorum’s rise turns out to be an advantage for Romney will largely depend upon whether or not the Santorum campaign can improve on fundraising and organization before Super Tuesday.


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