Rick Santorum’s surprising sweep of two Republican presidential caucuses and one primary recently offers the strong possibility that the Republican presidential nominee may not be decided for several months. That may thrill political junkies, but it’s disconcerting for Republican leaders, who would prefer to have a presumed nominee able to campaign against Democratic President Barack Obama.
Santorum’s wins in Missouri, Minnesota and — most surprisingly — Colorado make it almost a guarantee that the primary season will include himself, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul for a long time. For Romney, it’s another troubling indicator that the former Massachusetts governor has not connected with or earned the confidence of the Republican Party’s conservative base.
Romney’s problems get clearer with each setback. He does not command support from the Tea Party, or evangelicals, or Republicans earning fewer than $50,000 a year. The results are a loss in evangelical South Carolina and defeats in three of four caucuses, which tend to produce low turnouts dominated by the party’s more conservative base.
In fact, the Republican candidates have another problem besides knocking off each other en route to the GOP convention. The past few primaries and caucuses have had voter turnouts that have been low. A lack of enthusiasm from Republican voters for their candidates provides another worry.
Santorum, who previously was a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, has strong conservative credentials. He’s a natural fit for a Tea Partyish base that isn’t sold on Romney. Still, Romney retains several advantages over Santorum. He has far more money and the continued ability to wage a national campaign. Santorum can’t do that, yet. He’ll have to prove he can to surpass Romney as the “frontrunner.”