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Tonight Is Not About Rick Santorum: It's About Mitt Romney

The frontrunner has a problem, but not the one you think. Goes 0-3 against Santorum.

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Rick Santorum declared victory tonight in Minnesota and Missouri caucuses, saying the voices of voters in those states were heard "especially loud" at Romney headquarters in Massachusetts. But Santorum's performance is not a win — it's just a loss for Mitt Romney.

Fresh off landslide victories in Florida and Nevada, the momentum didn't carry through for Romney in the two non-binding contests. While he didn't lose out on any delegates (and Santorum didn't gain any), Romney's lackluster performance once again proves he has trouble with the base — and Santorum's candidacy is just the manifestation of that trouble.

The people who turn out for these low-profile, non-binding affairs are the same activists who knock on doors and drive Republicans to the polls in November. And while Santorum isn't going to be the Republican nominee, he can go a long way toward souring that Republican base toward its likely nominee.

"I care about the very rich and the very poor. I care about 100% of America," Santorum said, eyeing Romney.

Romney won both Minnesota and Colorado in 2008, and narrowly lost Missouri to John McCain. Tonight he lost all three — and by wide margins at that. (Santorum had twice the number of votes as Romney in conservative Missouri.)

Losing is never good, getting crushed this bad — even when the stakes are so low — are a sign of fundamental weakness.

The question being asked now by Romney supporters and GOP officials is why can't Romney seal the deal. His campaign will have a long February if they can't come up to an answer to that question — and fast.

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