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Winners and losers from Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri

at 06:30 AM ET, 02/08/2012

A supposedly less-important Election Day on Tuesday got pretty interesting by the time it was all said and done.

We’ve combed through all the results so we can lay it all out for you — as usual — in the form of winners and losers.

WINNERS

* Rick Santorum: This is a guy who was left for dead just a few days ago. Not only did he not get a bump from his performance in Iowa in early January; he actually fared pretty poorly even after the Iowa GOP declared him a winner two weeks later.

After Tuesday, he’s got a lot to hang his hat on, winning all three contests, and beating the polls by a large margin. It’s up to him now to prove his appeal isn’t just a Midwest thing or a one-time deal, and that he can raise enough money to be the true anti-Mitt Romney candidate.

He also has yet to prove that he can beat a fully engaged Romney machine. But Tuesday was a great start.

* Ron Paul: He finished second to Santorum in Minnesota, beating Romney and turning in his best performance (percentage-wise) to date. For a guy who had taken a step back in the last few contests, including finishing a disappointing third in Nevada — a state he really focused on — this was a good night.

* Missouri: What beauty contest? By holding two presidential contests, Missouri now has a chance to be relevant twice in the GOP nominating contests, so long as its March 17 caucus draws some attention. It may have been an accident, but it’s a happy accident now.

* “Uncommitted”: Another reason Missouri wins is because it offers this option on its primary ballot. And in fact, “uncommitted” took 4 percent of the vote in the Republican primary and 6 percent in an even-more-meaningless Democratic primary won handily by President Obama.

Why is “uncommitted” so great? Really, what better way is there to express your dismay than by effectively saying, ‘I went to the trouble of turning out to vote just so I could vote against all of you.’

Now that’s democracy.

LOSERS

* The this-race-is-over crowd: While Romney may still sew up the GOP race in short order, this represents just the latest example of Romney’s inevitability being called into question — and the pundits declaring the race over being wrong.

Put plainly: It’s just too uncertain to call this a done deal.

* Mitt Romney: He was on a fast track for the nomination a couple days ago. He’s still a heavy favorite, but he just hit a significant speed bump, and now he needs to address just what happened in a pretty disastrous night (less than 20 percent of the vote in Minnesota!?).

* Newt Gingrich: Remember that guy? With his performance Tuesday, Santorum has set himself up to be the new conservative alternative to Romney.

Gingrich, meanwhile, fared pretty poorly in the two states where he was on the ballot Tuesday, finishing in the teens and leading to questions about whether he’s got enough in the tank for Super Tuesday.

* Caucuses: The expectation-setting operation on behalf of the Romney campaign did plenty to downplay the impact of caucuses on the presidential process.

Lest we forget that Iowa also has a non-binding caucus, and it’s considered pretty darn important? Or that President Obama lost the popular vote in the 2008 Democratic primary, but won the nomination largely because of his performance in caucus states?

After what happened in Minnesota, can we agree that a caucus can matter?

Next issue du jour = contraception: Both Santorum and Gingrich targeted Romney in the runup to election night Tuesday for his past position on emergency contraception.

And the issue appears to be the latest one on which Romney will have to spend time defending himself.

Both criticized Romney for forcing Catholic hospitals to dispense emergency contraception to victims of rape, even though some Catholics are opposed to contraception. The Boston Globe recently pointed to a time in 2005 when Romney took this view.

“Over and over, you get the same pattern. And I think that a Massachusetts moderate finds it very hard to draw a sharp contrast with somebody who is an Illinois radical,” Gingrich said, according NBC News.

Santorum, meanwhile, wrote an op-ed on the issue in Politico, arguing that the Obama administration’s move to force hospitals to dispense emergency contraception was pretty similar to Romney’s effort. (More on Obama’s effort here.)

“This is not the first time that elected officials have trounced on the fundamental right to religious freedom,” Santorum said.

Romney’s campaign responded by pointing out that Romney vetoed the bill in question, but that the state legislature overrode his veto.

Meanwhile, Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gives Santorum and Gingrich two pinocchios apiece for their attack.

Ohio looms: We still have two primaries before Super Tuesday — in Arizona and Michigan — but that doesn’t mean we won’t see the candidates start to focus on March 6.

Indeed, we’re already seeing a couple of candidates dip their toes in Ohio, with Gingrich spending Tuesday in the state and a pro-Romney super PAC starting to buy up ad time there.

Early voting in the Buckeye State begins Wednesday, so really, the election begins now.

Ten states will hold their contests on Super Tuesday.

Fixbits:

Andrew Kaczynski unearths video of Gingrich speaking on the House floor in 1986 about the Reagan administration’s failures.

Obama and his campaign manager, Jim Messina, will speak at a Senate Democrats retreat.

Anita Perry wants her husband to run for president again, after he bones up on his debate prep, of course.

The back story behind Clint Eastwood’s Chrysler ad.

Virginia is passing a bill to make it easier to get on its presidential ballot. Every GOP candidate except Romney and Paul failed to make the ballot in this year’s Virginia primary.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) is on the air in her primary against Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).

Special election-winning Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) is sworn in.

The electronic version of Richard Ben Cramer’s great campaign book “What It Takes” is available for less than $3. So go buy one now.

Must-reads:

Obama advisers seek compromise on contraception rule” — Peter Wallsten and Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post

PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama embraces ‘super PAC’” — Jack Gillum, AP

As Massachusetts governor, Romney had an unremarkable record on jobs” — Jia Lynn Yang, Washington Post

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