Digested: Maine, Nevada, Colorado and Minnesota – the Republican Primaries

As the year goes on and the primary race becomes progressively frenzied, our tentative attempts at coverage are going to have to be scaled back a bit.

We’re getting to the stage where multiple contests are being held on the same day – February the 7th saw Coloradoan and Minnesotan Republicans head for their nearest voting booth, and March will bring Super Tuesday, the day when 11 states all vote at once. The Maine Caucuses, stretched across a week from the 4th to the 11th of February, eventually resulted in a narrow win for the Romney camp. Republican renegade Ron Paul drew significant support from libertarian-leaning Mainers, and came within 194 votes of snatching victory – impressive, but still disappointing for his supporters since some had predicted Maine was the one state Dr Paul could win outright.

That said, doubts have been cast as to the validity of the results – bad weather meant that not all of the state’s electoral precincts meant that only 84% of districts were represented in the official results. Some, especially in the Paul camp, are agitating for all districts to be taken into account, meaning that there is still chance for a last-minute upset particularly given the closeness of the final result – Romney got 39.2% of the vote, with Paul close behind on 35.7%.

The Nevada Caucuses, held on February the 4th, provided Romney with an easy win. The large Nevadan Mormon community turned out in force to support their brother in Christ – 25% of caucus goers were Mormons. The result was an unquestionable 50.1% victory for the Romney camp – he indisputably walks away the winner, but since Nevada’s 28 delegates are distributed based on a candidate’s share of the votes cast, Gingrich and Paul, second and third respectively, don’t leave empty-handed. 

Come February the 7th, though, Romney’s fortunes nose-dived. Up until then, discomfort about his perceived centrism was certainly palpable amongst the Republican rank and file, but hadn’t stopped the seeming inevitability of him slowly but steadily riding to victory. Throughout the contest so far he’s frequently looked and sounded like he’d been named the party’s official Presidential candidate already.

But in Colorado and Minnesota, he was unexpectedly bested by the socially conservative former Senator for Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, despite entering both confident of success. Santorum’s Colorado lead was small – 40.3% to Romney’s 34.9% – but Minnesota brought the added humiliation of seeing the former frontrunner pushed into third place behind Santorum and Paul. Santorum won with 44.9% of the vote, Paul came second with 27.1%, with Romney trailing in third with 16.9%, his lowest vote share of the contest so far.

Mitt Romney is still the most likely Republican to end up facing Barack Obama in a full-blown Presidential election come November. What recent events have demonstrated is that winning that official Republican seal of approval is probably going to be a far choppier ride than Romney himself and a lot of political commentators had expected.