The Ticket

Romney looks to Arizona & Michigan after Santorum’s surprising sweep

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

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Mitt Romney speaks during an election night rally in Denver. (Chris Carlson/AP)

DENVER—Hours before Rick Santorum's victories in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota on Tuesday were official, Mitt Romney's campaign began downplaying the votes in the three states—knowing that the night likely wouldn't go as well as it hoped.

Rich Beeson, Romney's political director, noted in a memo sent to reporters that no delegates were awarded in the contests, because Colorado and Minnesota held caucuses with "non-binding preference polls." Beeson described the Missouri primary as "purely a beauty contest."

Echoing what Romney advisers traveling with the candidate have said to reporters on the trail in recent days, Beeson argued that Tuesday's primaries will have little impact on Romney's political fortunes.

"We are well on the way to victory," Beeson wrote.

But Romney's third-place finish in Minnesota is particularly embarrassing for his campaign, in part because Tim Pawlenty, the state's former governor, is one of his most high-profile surrogates. And the losses in Colorado and Missouri--a 30-point rout--put a wrench in Romney's efforts to portray himself as the inevitable Republican nominee.

Speaking to reporters Monday night, a senior Romney aide acknowledged the campaign could have spent more time and money in Minnesota, but said it didn't want to be "greedy" in investing in states that don't offer large numbers of delegates.

"You have to play where the delegates are," the aide, who declined to be named discussing strategy.

Stuart Stevens, Romney's senior strategist, dismissively compared the results in Minnesota to a "student body election." When it was pointed out that Romney won Minnesota four years ago, Stevens said it was because Romney in 2008 was the conservative alternative to McCain.

So Rick Santorum is the new Mitt Romney? "Yes, sort of," Stevens said.

The Romney campaign is focusing its efforts on Arizona and Michigan--two contests it considers pivotal to Romney's political fortunes and that will award a collective 59 delegates on Feb. 28—as well as Super Tuesday on Mar. 6, when 10 states will vote.

Romney's campaign aides have privately acknowledged that some of the Super Tuesday contests—particularly in states like Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee—could prove favorable to Santorum or Newt Gingrich, thus extending the primary season even longer.

One positive, the aides note, is that many of the contests will split their delegates among multiple candidates.

"Of course, there is no way for any nominee to win first place in every single contest—John McCain lost 19 states in 2008, and we expect our opponents to notch a few wins too," Beeson argued in his memo Tuesday. "But unlike the other candidates, our campaign has the resources and organization to keep winning over the long run."

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