DENVER (CBS4) – Rick Santorum hopes to capitalize on his Colorado victory. He took 40 percent of the vote in Tuesday night’s caucus.
Mitt Romney finished with 35 percent and Newt Gingrich ran a distant third.
Based on the polls going into the caucus, Santorum’s showing in Colorado was quite a surprise. It was definitely a disappointing night for Romney, but not quite disastrous.
While Santorum won rural counties such as El Paso, Teller, Larimer and Weld. They trend conservative regardless of the candidate. It’s the swing counties that are telling for November. Romney won counties that included battlegrounds such as Arapahoe and Jefferson.
Still, in a race that continues to have one unexpected twist after another, it was the wildest night yet. Even Santorum’s backers were stunned by his Colorado victory.
“I kept saying, ‘I think we’re going to come in a strong second here in Colorado,’ you know, hoping. And I was going to call that a win,” former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo said.
Tancredo says Santorum did what Romney couldn’t — appeal to the hardcore conservatives in the state — the type that turns out for caucuses. It’s a group that’s membership has changed since the last time Romney was on a ballot in Colorado.
PHOTO GALLERY: GOP Caucus Day In Colorado
The Tea Party has emerged since 2008, when ironically Romney was the conservative in the race.
Former Colorado Republican Party Chair Dick Wadhams says Romney underestimated their pull.
“I think Colorado Republicans sent a clear message to Mitt Romney last night that they want more of Rick Santorum in candidacy,” Wadhams said. “I don’t think it was an outright rejection of Mitt Romney.”
Romney may have also miscalculated the impact of being the “establishment” candidate in a state that doesn’t like to be told who to vote for.
“You have to be very judicious in applying the endorsements,” longtime Repulican political consultant Walt Klein said.
Klein said in contrast Santorum was seen as the “grassroots” candidate.
“He seemed to be every place, every day. He hit all the right bastions,” Klein said.
The question now is if he can capitalize on it. As momentum shifts, so do the attacks.
“We’ll see to what extent he can withstand the onslaught of negative advertising that will come,” Tancredo said.
After all, Romney has the organization and the bank account and his loss wasn’t a death blow. In fact, the longer Santorum’s candidacy stays alive the easier for Romney to conquer and divide.
“Mitt Romney’s going to be a better nominee having to fight for this nomination,” Wadhams said.
While Romney needs the conservative base in the counties where Santorum won, every Republican CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd talked to says if he’s the nominee they will fall in line behind him. Their goal is to beat President Obama.
Still, it’s certainly a wake-up call for Romney.
Santorum’s campaign received more than $250,000 in donations since Tuesday night’s sweep.