Last time I wrote about the 2012 Republican Primary process, it was after the Nevada caucus results belatedly came in. At the time, as I wrote, I was a bit incensed about much of the media's attempts to make the entire primary a "done deal" based on the results of a caucus in a fairly unrepresentative state with a small population. But I wish I would have been more bold, because the results in Missouri tonight have in many ways changed the race around.
The Missouri primary is a beauty contest primary. It has no bearing on actual delegate selection, which will be decided in caucuses in March. Newt Gingrich didn't even bother to get on the ballot. In other words, the Missouri contest is just a dramatic opinion poll. And yet, it is one of the most dramatic turns in the race so far.
Rick Santorum was considered an "also ran" throughout 2011, until he won the Iowa Caucus in a last minute surge. Since then, he has not won a state. The race became a two person race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Santorum hadn't even won a county.
Until tonight. I was expecting Santorum to do fairly well in Missouri, getting good votes in the rural areas and even staying competitive in Missouri's urban areas. Instead, as the results came in, Santorum seems to have ran well across the board. In fact, Santorum won every one of Missouri's 115 counties. For a candidate who many thought lacked a purpose in the race only a few days ago, Santorum managing to do well across the board in a populous, diverse state came as a great surprise, even to those who were expecting him to make a decent showing. That, at the time of this writing, it was followed up by a victory in Minnesota and quite possibly in Colorado made the night even more tumultuous, for those given to tumult over primary races. So despite the fact that this contest has no actual impact on delegate selection, it is very important.
Missouri is a state that straddles different regions. It is part of the Midwest, the South and the Great Plains. While Romney has won three states, he has not won any states in those regions, and his failure to win in Missouri brings further doubt to whether he can get a consensus as a candidate from different factions and demographics in the Republican party. However, it is also not clear if another candidate, including Rick Santorum, can get such a consensus. The result of tonight's other two races may tell us more, but there is also a good chance that the question will remain in the air until after Super Tuesday.