Live-blogging, previewing GOP elections in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri

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Thumbtack 1 – At 8 p.m. EST, polls close in Missouri and GOP caucuses convene in Minnesota. We expect the first results from Minnesota from 8:15 p.m. – 8:45 p.m. Colorado’s caucuses convene at 9 p.m. EST, with results expected to trickle in between 9 p.m. and midnight. There will be NO entrance or exit polling conducted in any of the states for the AP.

Thumbtack 2 –Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer sent a memo to reporters yesterday stressing that no delegates will be awarded today-

Colorado is a non-binding precinct caucus. Their 36 delegates will be chosen at district conventions held between March 31-April 13 and at the state convention on April 14.

Minnesota is a non-binding precinct caucus. Their 40 delegates will be chosen at district conventions held between April 14 -21 and at a state convention on May 5. Delegates are not bound unless the state convention passes a resolution to bind the delegates.

Missouri will hold a primary tomorrow that is not recognized as being a part of any delegate allocation or selection process. A precinct caucus will be held on March 17 to begin the process of choosing their 52 delegates which will be chosen at district conventions on April 21 and a state convention on June 2. Candidates for delegate must state a presidential preference at the time of nomination and will be bound to support that candidate for one ballot at the national convention.

11:21 p.m. – Santorum wins Adams County outside Denver by 10 points. Romney won Adams by 53 points in 2008.

11:02 p.m. – An emerging theme is that Mitt Romney can’t win any state unless he’s able to hammer his opponents with negative ads.

10:29 p.m. – ABC News declares Rick Santorum the winner in Minnesota.

10:20 p.m. – .@FixAaron: Missouri’s meaningless primary? Not anymore.

10:06 p.m. – @ppppolls: We called a big night for Santorum but based on what’s in in MO and MN so far it’s going to be an even bigger one!

9:58 p.m. – How important does Arizona become if Santorum pulls off a trifecta?

9:46 p.m. – Ron Paul is leading the vote count so far in both Hennepin County and Ramsay County, home to Minneapolis and St. Paul, respectively – and to large numbers of college students.

9:43 p.m. – Rick Santorum wins Missouri primary, CNN projects.

9:42 p.m. – .@thinkprogress: Romney proving to be strong in states with large Mormon populations and/or where he outspends his opponents 5 to 1.

9:26 p.m. – If you’re waiting for results in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, it may be a long wait. There were no exit polls conducted so the television networks are waiting for the votes to be counted before projecting a winner.

9:17 p.m. – Even if Santorum does well, Douthat doubts it will matter:

Because the voters of South Carolina gave Gingrich the crucial first crack at Romney, Santorum’s moment is almost certainly coming round too late.

9:03 p.m. – Basically all results so far in Missouri from St. Louis and Springfield. Romney winning STL big, Santorum winning Springfield big.

8:51 p.m. – Santorum off to good start in Minnesota, Missouri.

8:39 p.m. – Ed Morrissey wonders whether Santorum could get a second look:

Let’s say lightning strikes twice on Tuesday and Santorum manages to win both Minnesota and Missouri, while Romney coasts to a win in Colorado.  Besides the Maine caucuses that go on all week (and which are also non-binding), does this give Santorum an edge on the argument for being the true conservative consolidation candidate?

1:07 p.m. – Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign apparently doesn’t expect to do well in the three GOP presidential nomination contests tonight and has released a memo dramatically downplaying their importance. Via The Political Wire.

9:53 a.m. – Why today’s contests are important (Part 2) – The Fix: “It all sets to stage for one of the biggest spin wars of the 2012 campaign, in which the results matter about as much as how they will be interpreted.”

9:52 a.m. – Why today’s contests are important (Part 1) – First Read: “While they haven’t received the same kind of attention as the other early nominating contests, today’s races in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri are worth keeping in mind for three reasons. First, they have more projected delegates at stake — a combined 76 (40 in Minnesota, 36 in Colorado, and zero in Missouri, whose delegates will be determined a later date) — than all the combined delegates for Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Second, they all occur in presidential battleground states. And third, they give Mitt Romney’s challengers, particularly Rick Santorum, the opportunity to upset Romney.”

9:42 a.m. – Neither the St. Louis Post-Dispatch nor the Kansas City Star  put stories about today’s primary in Missouri on their front page.

9:41 a.m. – “There has been much confusion – and even some conspiracy theories – in Mesa County over precinct caucuses,” The Denver Post reports in a story getting attention locally. “Part of that is due to the fact that state congressional-district boundaries were revamped since the last general election. Part of it can be pinned on a broken printer. In Mesa County, numbers of precincts dropped from 82 to 57 as some were consolidated and others were adjusted. Voters who long have gone to a familiar church or neighbor’s living room for a caucus suddenly had to research where they are supposed to show up this year.”

9:38 a.m. – What the Republican candidates are up to today: Romney rallies in Johnstown, Colo., this morning and holds his victory party in Denver. Santorum starts the morning in Colorado Springs, then flies to Minnesota for a last-minute rally in Blaine and holds his primary night party in Missouri. Gingrich makes an Ohio swing, with stops in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. Paul has a quiet day before holding an election night party in Golden Valley, Minn.

9:36 a.m. –Minnesota Star-Tribune suggests Ron Paul could win today: “A wide spectrum of Republican strategists now say Paul’s passionate and deeply devoted followers could swarm the caucuses, giving the Texas congressman his first win and potentially creating a seismic reshuffling of the GOP field. National political experts are paying particularly close attention, because the state has a history of embracing quirky politicians, potentially giving Paul his last, best shot.”

9:34 a.m. – Romney could finish third in Minnesota: That’s the buzz on the ground via The Morning Score. Conservative activists you’d expect to be lining up behind the frontrunner at this point say they’re not ready to. In a conference call for reporters yesterday, Tim Pawlenty essentially wrote off Minnesota. The former governor refused to predict that his candidate will win, instead saying that caucus-goers will “gravitate toward the perceived most conservative candidate.” Then he attacked Santorum. Romney himself, who canceled a visit planned to the state yesterday, implicitly referred to Minnesota as a “beauty contest” during a radio interview. Despite efforts to lower expectations, anything lower than second place in the North Star State tonight will constitute A LEGITIMATE HUMILIATION for both Romney (who won the 2008 caucuses) and Pawlenty (who is widely expected to run statewide again in 2014…if he doesn’t get a Romney cabinet appointment). That said, an unexpected win in Minnesota would give the frontrunner a major boost going into The February Lull and bolster his claim to inevitability.

8:09 a.m. – Three new Public Policy Polling surveys show Rick Santorum could be headed for a big day in today’s GOP presidential contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri.

In Missouri’s primary, Santorum leads with 45%, followed by Mitt Romney at 32% and Ron Paul at 19%. Newt Gingrich did not make the ballot.

In Minnesota’s caucuses, Santorum leads with 33%, followed by Romney at 24%, Gingrich at 22% and Paul at 20%.

In Colorado’s caucuses, Romney leads with 37%, followed by Santorum at 27%, Gingrich at 21%, and Paul at 13%.

However: “The race in these three states is unusually volatile. 38% of voters in Missouri, 35% in Minnesota, and 31% in Colorado say that they’re still open to changing their votes.”

8:04 a.m. – The Romney camp preps Colorado voters for Tuesday’s caucus with this ad.

8:00 a.m. – As campaign heads to Midwest, Romney turns focus to Santorum: “Mr. Santorum’s razor-thin victory in Iowa’s caucuses in early January was the first and last time his campaign has posed a serious challenge to Mr. Romney. But that could change as the campaign moves to the Midwest and the Rust Belt, where Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, might find more strength and where polls suggest that Mr. Romney might have trouble connecting with voters.”

7:00 a.m. – Colorado GOP to make its voice heard: Colorado Republicans will gather Tuesday night in neighborhood meetings to choose a presidential candidate, and for once, it matters… It was a different story in 2008. Those caucuses also were the first week in February, but by the time Colorado Republicans had voted, the race was all but over. Romney handily won the 2008 Colorado caucuses, but he dropped out of the race two days later because Arizona Sen. John McCain had won too many other states.”

7:00 a.m. – How Colorado’s caucuses work: The caucuses are non-binding so the state and congressional conventions in April will actually elect the 36 national convention delegates, former Colorado GOP chair Dick Wadhams explains in a column for the Denver Post.

7:00 a.m. – Missouri’s ‘Beauty Contest” may offer Rick Santorum an opportunity: “Because of a mix of party decree and legislative inaction, taxpayers will foot the bill for a statewide election that will be officially meaningless for Republicans and virtually irrelevant for Democrats. Many Republicans were in favor of scrapping the election altogether, which comes with an estimated price tag of nearly $7 million. The candidate with the most to gain on Tuesday – and about the only GOP contender talking about the Missouri primary – is Santorum, who is seeking to plant his flag as the leading alternative to [Romney]. Newt Gingrich, for reasons that remain ambiguous, did not sign up for the Missouri primary ballot, giving Santorum the rare, if unconventional, opportunity to go head-to-head with the front-runner Romney. Santorum has made stops all over the state in the run-up to Tuesday’s election.” http://bit.ly/xyd3jd

7:00 a.m. – 23% turnout expected in Missouri: “Despite its lack of import, officials are expecting a respectable turnout of nearly 23 percent, an indicator that there is a certain stalwart constituency of voters who will cast a ballot no matter the stakes,” according to the story about Santorum in the Post-Dispatch. “In 2008, when there were competitive races in both parties, the turnout for the Missouri primary was about 36 percent.”

5:56 p.m.  – For Rick Santorum, Tuesday’s primary in Minnesota is key. Is his candidacy doomed? Or is there reason to stay in the race?

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.