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Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri: 3 things to know

Another round of states vote for their Republican candidate.

In the latest round of the Republican primary race today, a total 76 delegates are at stake: 36 in Colorado and 40 in Minnesota. The Missouri primary election is also taking place; however the state's failure to adhere to party rules on scheduling means its 52 delegates will be awarded in a separate caucus on 17 March. Mitt Romney is currently ahead with 81 delegate votes to Newt Gingrich's 27, Rick Santorum's 15 and Ron Paul's seven. Yet the voting behaviour of the residents in these deeply conservative states is expected to show no correlation to how the votes currently stand.

It is important to note the "types" of Republicans taking to the ballot box today: moreso than in other areas of the US, residents of Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri identify as being "very" conservative, and a large proportion are Tea Party members and Evangelicals.

Colorado caucuses (36 delegates)

This key battleground state was won comfortably by Romney in the previous Republican candidate race: it is particularly interesting to compare the results of the 2008 Republican presidential primary here between its candidates John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Then-Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney won the state (and its full 22 delegates) with 60 per cent of the vote: three times that of the eventual nominee, John McCain.

Yet the frontrunner appears to be on the defensive. Earlier today, the Romney campaign released a memo by its political director, Rich Beeson, in which he wrote, under the headline "The Reality of February":

It is difficult to see what Governor Romney's opponents can do to change the dynamics of the race in February. No delegates will be awarded on February 7 -- Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses with nonbinding preference polls, and the Missouri primary is purely a beauty contest. Except for the Maine and Wyoming nonbinding caucuses running through February, the next contests are on February 28 in states where Governor Romney is strong. Arizona's 29 delegates will be bound in a winner-take-all contest. Michigan, the state where Governor Romney grew up, binds 30 delegates.

This disregard for the worth of Colorado's vote points to the changed perception of Romney in the state. During the 2008 race, Romney was seen in Minnesota and Colorado as the more conservative candidate relative to John McCain; in 2012, he appears liberal alongside Rick Santorum.

Missouri primary (no delegates; 52 delegates on 17 March caucuses)

Speaking to residents of Hannibal, Missouri four days ago, Santorum boldly said:

When we go head to head with Governor Romney, we can beat him. When Speaker Gingrich goes head to head with Governor Romney, he can't. The polls show it and it will show on Tuesday . . . If I'm out of the race, most of my votes go to Governor Romney. If he's [Gingrich] out of the race, most of his votes go to me.

And Public Policy Polling had good news for the Santorum campaign:

Missouri looks like a probable win for Santorum. He's at 45% there to 32% for Mitt Romney and 19% for Paul. Minnesota provides an opportunity for a win as well. Currently he has a small advantage with 33% to 24% for Romney, 22% for Newt Gingrich, and 20% for Ron Paul. And Santorum should get a second place finish in Colorado, where Romney appears to be the likely winner.

This seemingly-sudden propulsion in the race is down to Santorum's popularity among voters here: his favourability comes in over 70 per cent -- far higher than Romney's in the 50s and Newt Gingrich, who wavers around 48 per cent. Gingrich will not participate in the Missouri primary, having missed the filing deadline. He has just announced, however, that his campaign is in for the long-haul: running at least until the Republican National Convention which takes place in Tampa the week beginning 27 August.

As Richard Adams recognised in the Guardian's election blog, for the first time the four candidate will be in present in four different states by the time votes are counted this evening: Santorum in Missouri; Romney in Colorado; Gingrich in Ohio and Ron Paul in Minnesota.

Minnesota caucuses (40 delegates)

Further numbers from Public Policy Polling in this deeply conservative northern state have Santorum ten points ahead of both Romney and Gingrich. However, as Mark Blumenthal at the Huffington Post notes:

The three PPP polls also found that a third or more of the voters in the three states say they might still "end up supporting someone else," rather than their first choice -- 31 percent in Colorado, 35 percent in Minnesota and 38 percent in Missouri. That result, which the PPP release characterized as indicating an "unusually volatile" race, may indicate the potential for further change or simply reflect that many have already changed their minds, perhaps more than once in recent weeks.

Still, as it currently appears, Santorum could very well wake up tomorrow having won two further states and been placed second in a third. That would grant him three victories from the eight states that have voted so far, and an unexpected surge at this stage in the race.