It's led to a chorus of shock-and-awe warning that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney might be on the ropes.
(Credit Image: © Glen Stubbe/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com)
As former California GOP Chair Ron Nehring said in POLITICO this morning:
"I doubt the Romney team is particularly worried. No delegates were at stake yesterday, and Romney alternatives are bound to do better in conservative-dominated caucuses and conventions as the frontrunner positions himself for a general election matchup."
Lagging behind in third and not competing in Missouri, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich decided to set his sights on... California? Weird.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul remains in the race, though marginally.
Romney leads the current delegate count with 91; Santorum is now in second place with 44. Presidential nominees need 1,144 delegates.
Santorum's three-peat wins poise a March 6 Super Tuesday showdown with Romney that should separate the wheat from the chaff.
Despite his ham-handed rhetoric, Santorum cannot march a band of traveling volunteers on an anemic budget to the Republican nomination in August.
And what says the ultimate opponent?
Most of the barbs fired from President Obama's chief re-election strategist, David Axelrod, aim directly at Romney -- seemingly signifying that he's the most feared challenger.
Romney isn't a dream Republican candidate. But we could do far worse.
If Romney takes the lion's share of Super Tuesday wins, he'll quickly shift gears to composite-candidate stature, shaping into a candidate made up of lesser parts of other, better candidates with more campaign infastructure, money, and populist appeal -- the greatest weaknesses of Team Santorum.
For now, Santorum can savor the flavor of being a thorn in the backside of the moderates who want a like-candidate facing off with Obama.
Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul playing the "anti-Romney" card plays only so long before delegates fatigue and coalesce in hopes of a GOP White House victory.
NEXT UP: Maine (24 delegates) announces the results of its extended caucuses on Saturday, February 11, followed by February 28 primaries in Arizona (29 delegates) and Romney's home state, Michigan (30 delegates).
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