Rick Santorum might be the media darling of the day after his clean sweep in last night's three elections. But that likely won't mean much for his future electoral prospects. Those three elections did not actually award any delegates—two (Minnesota and Colorado) were nonbinding caucuses, and the Missouri primary has been termed a beauty contest, with the states' delegates actually selected by another vote later this spring.
Much like Iowa, these were small-scale contests where Santorum's town halls could win over enough votes to tip the scales. These were also the first contests where the Romney super PAC stayed largely on the sidelines, running few ads. That won't be the case in the remaining two February contests; Arizona and Michigan are large states where TV ads and traditional campaign infrastructure will trump grassroots appeal.
After those states vote, the nomination finally ditches its state-by-state progression and becomes a truly national primary on Super Tuesday. Every poll so far has shown that Santorum can't compete at this broader level. Almost every non-state-specific poll from 2012 has had Newt Gingrich ahead of Santorum; the few outliers immediately followed the Iowa caucuses, where Santorum unexpectedly finished first. Even as Santorum sent Gingrich packing last night, a new Rasmussen poll released Tuesday had Gingrich ahead of Santorum by 9 percent nationally. Santorum's sweater-vest charm might capture the hearts of Midwesterners, but Gingrich has captured the heart of the national anti-Romney movement.
Of course, those same national polls have Romney head and shoulders above anyone else. Romney beat Gingrich by 7 percent in that Rasmussen survey, and the former Massachusetts governor has an 11.5 percent advantage in Real Clear Politics' poll average. The early voting states will always provide the occasional idiosyncratic result; they move ahead of the party-ordained calendar in order to buck national trends. But once the contest moves past that stage in a few weeks, Mitt Romney's advantages—money, organization, and wider acceptance among the Republican base—should be enough to quiet the horse-race talk.