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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives for a rally in Denver on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (Chris Carlson/AP/Chris Carlson/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives for a rally in Denver on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (Chris Carlson/AP/Chris Carlson/AP)

U.S. politics

Republican base shuns Romney in caucuses Add to ...

The poor little rich boy of Republican politics gets no love.

Sure, Mitt Romney racks up victories when he needs them. And his embarrassing losses in Tuesday’s GOP caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado will not matter much in a nomination contest that will likely be decided by staying power, not short-lived surges.

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Yet, Tuesday’s overwhelming rejection of Mr. Romney by social conservatives in the party does make one wonder whether he could ever woo enough of the Republican base to give President Barack Obama a run for his money in November.

To be sure, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum steamrolled to victory on Tuesday because he is a candidate tailor-made for the hard-core anti-abortion activists and evangelicals who braved the cold winter night in Minnesota and Colorado. They typically have a disproportionate voice in caucuses, where turnout is low and passion trumps all.

In 2008, Mr. Romney benefited from rampant anybody-but-John McCain sentiment in Minnesota and Colorado. Compared to the Arizona senator, who once pushed citizenship for illegal immigrants and voted against George W. Bush’s sweeping tax cuts, Mr. Romney was considered the conservative alternative to Mr. McCain back then.

And he swept the Republican races in Colorado and Minnesota, beating Mr. McCain by 42 percentage points in one state and by 19 in the other. But those states typically count for little in Republican nomination politics.

Indeed, two days later, the former Massachusetts governor quit the race, after losing to Mr. McCain in most of the critical Super Tuesday primary states.

The danger for Mr. Romney is that Mr. Santorum’s victories in Colorado and Minnesota, as well as his 30-percentage point win in the delegate-less Missouri primary, prompt Republicans in other states to take another look at him.

While the former senator’s appeal is highest among social conservatives, who propelled him to a photo-finish win in the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Santorum is also making a pitch for the votes of working-class Republicans turned off by Mr. Romney’s patrician image.

As the grandson of an immigrant coal miner from heavily unionized western Pennsylvania, who voted against federal right-to-work legislation, he might pull it off.

This year, Super Tuesday falls on March 6, when 10 states will hold primaries and award 437 delegates, or almost 40 per cent of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination.

Unlike in 2008, when Mr. McCain locked up the race with Super Tuesday victories in six winner-take-all states, Super Tuesday delegates this year will be awarded on a proportional basis. That promises a much longer contest than four years ago.

By the time Super Tuesday rolls around, however, Newt Gingrich could be once again back from the dead.

The former House of Representatives Speaker, who has defied reports of his demise twice before, has his sights on winning Southern states such as Georgia and Tennessee to help him drag out the nomination race all the way to the August GOP convention.

Of course, the very characteristics that make Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich appealing to the Republican base make them unelectable in November.

As a rule of thumb, no candidate who scares the average independent voter in Akron can win a general election. Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich fail that test.

Mr. Romney may not excite voters, but at least he does not scare them. Most Republicans, above all those most concerned with winning in November, know this.

By picking Mr. Santorum, Republicans in Colorado and Minnesota showed they would rather make a statement than win.

Minnesota is reliably Democratic in presidential elections, while a growing Hispanic population in Colorado favours Democrats there, too. To win in either state, Republicans need to choose a candidate who appeals to the middle. They keep doing the opposite.

In 2010, the GOP grassroots in Colorado blew a chance to unseat an unpopular Democratic senator by nominating the most radical Tea Party candidate they could find to run in the general election.

The shellacking Mr. Romney took on Tuesday in Minnesota and Colorado is humiliating enough for a front-runner with more money and machine than all of his rivals combined.

Rather than being a kiss of death, however, it might be seen as a sign of his electability.

It is also a reminder that Mr. Romney, for all his apparent success with Tea Party voters in New Hampshire and Florida, has not won the affection of his party’s base.

Money, after all, cannot buy love.

Follow on Twitter: @konradyakabuski

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