With extremely low turnout in Colorado’s closed caucuses, many people seem surprised that Mitt Romney lost in Colorado to Rick Santorum by 5+ points. The difference between polling and caucus assembly surprises folks all the time. Turnout usually is a factor, and in this case it is pretty plain to see that social conservatives brought Rick Santorum the state.
I’m not a soothsayer at all. I myself expected Romney to eke out a win somewhere in Colorado, winning Denver votes with their business community, the free range Mormons who stick close to Utah, and lots of scattered small business owners who make up a large portion of Colorado’s open feel.
But when it came time for caucusing, Rick Santorum won. Turnout wasn’t close to expectations, and weather played a role in the numbers. But enthusiasm didn’t stop El Paso County.
El Paso County is home of Colorado Springs, also the headquarters of Focus on the Family. And if you’ve lived in the Springs, or heck, anywhere along the Front Range from Castle Rock down, it’s their turf. So the question of whether Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum represented their Christian values was answered in a big way.
In Colorado, there were 66,027 GOP caucus voters in 2012. In 2008, they had 70,229 voters. The numbers were depressed, but moreso, seemed to reflect Colorado’s natural independent nature, and the closed-minded, closed-primary Colorado GOP process. Low turnout also favored the upstart candidate in all cases, because enthusiasm always wins the day. It also doesn’t hurt if Focus on the Family is focused on your campaign.
In the state, Rick Santorum beat Mitt Romney by 3,602 votes, and El Paso provided an edge of 1,790 votes for Santorum. 19.5% of Rick’s votes came from the county, but more importantly, almost 50% of the margin of victory.
So while turnout was down 6%, El Paso showed up, providing Santorum with the edge. It crushed the margins of victory Mitt had in Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson County. Santorum could have lost other counties, and still carried the state just with El Paso County.
Add in the love of social media, and you’ve got to wonder if time differences do mean something for the nature of our election system. When it was 7 p.m. Central in Missouri, it’s 6 p.m. Mountain in Colorado. So when election results were coming in, Colorado was still underway. As I got the first returns from Missouri, it was literally a refresh the minute after 8 p.m. Eastern. In Colorado, not so fast, and honestly, a really interesting drag on results as the caucuses wrapped up.
We see the same thing in California results, and with electoral math, one can safely estimate if you can go to sleep on Election Day 2012 early, or grab some energy drinks and settle in for a long night.
Were early returns from Missouri a factor in pushing up turnout in Colorado? Large swaths of voters were turning up at the caucus sites, and some were first-timers. The internet was very busy, as momentum showed Santorum with a lot of energy, and Wolf Blitzer was freaking out on CNN as their network was scrambling for mock-ups of Rick Santorum in the graphics room.
After all, the only people in the state of Colorado that seemed excited were from El Paso County, and it’s no secret why. For Michigan voters, a different hill of beans, but all the same, a tidbit to add to your decision process. After 8 states … Rick Santorum has won the most states with 4.
More people are actually thinking about the narrative, and other states, like Minnesota and Missouri, show it’s not just a freak occurrence.
Of course, Missouri is non-binding, but really, those numbers did show a near 2:1 preference for Santorum in the absence of a Newt. 55.2% to 22.3% isn’t even close, and non-binding or not, it’s a big statement from Missouri voters. In the open primary, the margin of victory was overwhelmingly red meat conservatives looking for a way out.
Watching Romney’s speech, it was clear he wasn’t going to spend more time than necessary talking about these three states, and that’s a mistake. His enthusiasm gap is showing. And if he is the eventual nominee, he’s got to get his mojo.
Let’s say you are the eventual nominee. When it comes time for the blue/purple states of Colorado and Minnesota, who do you feel more comfortable with drawing from the base? In Missouri, a historically-split state, who nets you the best base turnout?
It’s interesting to say that when the data finally came in, Rick Santorum was the result. Yeah. Rick Santorum. Michigan is now in play.