The big story on Tuesday was Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s clean sweep in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses and in Missouri’s “beauty contest” primary.


Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney lost in all three of Tuesday’s contests. (Jim Cole/AP)

In Colorado, about 65,000 voters turned out for Tuesday’s GOP caucuses, down from about 70,000 in 2008.

In Minnesota, roughly 48,000 voters went to caucus on Tuesday. Four years ago, about 62,000 did.

Missouri’s primary on Tuesday didn’t play a role in the delegate-awarding process, so that “beauty contest,” where about 250,000 showed up to vote , isn’t a reliable gauge of voter enthusiasm. But the Show Me State has a second presidential primary next month. The key number then will be 580,000, the number of voters who turned out in Missouri’s GOP primary four years ago.

But the Colorado and Minnesota results – along with the results of other early nominating contests – are reinforcing signs of declining enthusiasm among GOP voters that could cause headaches for national Republicans in November.

In fact, in four of the seven states that have voted so far -- Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada and Florida -- turnout has been down from 2008, in some cases significantly so

In Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, turnout this year was 33,000, compared with 44,000 in 2008.

And in the Jan. 31 Florida GOP primary, turnout was about 1.7 million. Four years ago, it was 1.9 million.

Meanwhile, in three states – Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – turnout was up from four years ago. (Not included among the states counted is Missouri.)

Both Iowa and New Hampshire had only slight bumps: Iowa this year had a turnout of about 121,000 in the GOP caucuses, up slightly from about 119,000 four years ago. The Jan. 10 New Hampshire Republican primary had a turnout of nearly 250,000, compared with about 234,000 four years ago.

The only GOP contest so far that has seen a major increase in turnout has been the South Carolina primary. Turnout in this year’s Jan. 21 Palmetto State contest stood at about 600,000 – up from about 445,000 four years ago. And even then, the high numbers in South Carolina were fueled in large part by a strong showing by former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), not the current GOP frontrunner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

The 10 Super Tuesday contests next month should offer a clearer look at the mood of the electorate – but for now, it seems that enthusiasm among GOP base voters is mixed at best.

Also on Wednesday, the Obama camp released a memo by campaign pollster Joel Benenson arguing that Tuesday’s low caucus turnout represents part of a broader lack of enthusiasm among Republicans.

Benenson contends that GOP voters “are dissatisfied with their candidates,” especially Romney, and that Romney’s “effort to woo conservative voters is hurting him with independents.”

The full memo by Benenson is below.

TO: Interested Parties

FR: Joel Benenson, OFA Pollster

RE: Republicans Increasingly Dispirited and Discouraged about Their Candidates

--Tuesday’s results in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota confirm a trend that has been evident in each of the Republican nominating contests this year:

-----Republican voters are dissatisfied with their candidates – resulting in low turnouts,

-----Republican voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the frontrunner, Mitt Romney,

-----Romney’s effort to woo conservative voters is hurting him with independents.

Republican voters are dissatisfied with their candidates – resulting in low turnouts

--Republicans’ consistently low turnout shows that they are voting with their feet and staying home, rather than participating in Republican primaries.

-----Last night, Republican turnout plummeted 57% in Missouri, 21% in Minnesota and 6% in Colorado.

--Tuesday’s results continue a pattern, coming on the heels of depressed Republican turnout in the key contests of Nevada and Florida.

-----Although it was Romney’s best showing to date, turnout in the Nevada caucuses was down by more than 11,000 voters overall, leaving Romney with 27% fewer total votes than he received in 2008.

-----In Florida, voter turnout was down 14%.

--Earlier contests in Iowa and New Hampshire saw slightly improved voter turnout, but those numbers were driven largely by an uptick in the votes of Independents, many of whom were drawn to the Republican primary because of the absence of any Democratic race..

-----Among self-identified Republicans, entrance polls indicate that turnout was down around 11% in Iowa, while in New Hampshire registered Republican turnout was down 10%.

--The only state thus far with a significant rise in Republican turnout was South Carolina, where Romney was trounced by Newt Gingrich.

Republican voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the frontrunner, Mitt Romney

--As Romney’s camp continues to promote the idea that he is consolidating the Republican primary vote and as Republican leaders coalesce behind him, it is striking that even among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters, slightly more say that they like him less (39%) the more they hear about him than like him more (37%).

--The Florida primary, which Romney’s camp has said cements his status as the frontrunner, demonstrated the tepid support he has even within his own base.

-----31% of Romney’s own voters say they are dissatisfied with the Republican field and would like to see a new entrant, showing that even among those voting for him, there is little enthusiasm or confidence that he is the best the party can do.

--The grinding, negative nature of Romney’s candidacy, which has relied heavily on attacks on his opponents, has served to erode his standing and GOP enthusiasm overall. As Republican discontent with their presidential nominees heightens, the supposed enthusiasm advantage among Republican voters has been thrown into reverse.

-----According to a new PPP poll released today, 85% of Democrats are “very” or “somewhat” excited to vote compared with just 78% of Republicans.

-----In a January CNN poll, 26% of registered Republicans said they were “extremely” enthusiastic about voting for President, a 12-point drop since October.

Romney’s effort to woo conservative voters is hurting him with independents

--Romney’s shifting positions, in quest of conservative votes, have raised concern among independent voters. And Tuesday’s vote demonstrated that even the base Republicans he has so aggressively sought are rejecting his appeals.

-----Romney’s approach so far – which is to wield his financial advantage and his super PAC coffers to sully his opponents and their records – is the type of negative strategy that Independent voters reject.

-----And Romney’s continued demonstrations that he is out of touch with working and middle class Americans, their struggles and their aspirations, have taken a significant toll on his standing with Independents.

-------This reveals a Romney campaign that is astonishingly disconnected from the electorate. Voters, unsurprisingly, are sensing that – just 7% of all adults say that Romney understands their problems well.

-------He dropped 18 points to 23% favorability among Independent voters between early and late January, according to ABC / Washington Post polling.

--Not surprisingly, Romney has fared poorly among those Independents who have turned out.

-----In Iowa, he lost to Ron Paul by 24% among Independents and Romney lost to Paul among Independents in his adopted home state – New Hampshire.

-----In both Iowa and New Hampshire, just as was the case in Nevada, Romney received fewer total voters in 2012 than he did in 2008.

--Romney’s tactics and the tenor of the Republican contest is driving an increasingly negative view of him and the entire Republican field.

-----Among voters overall, as evidenced by this week’s ABC / Washington Post poll, the survey found that by 2-to-1, voters say that the more they hear about Romney, the less they like about him.

-----And the A January Pew poll uncovered a dismal view of the Republican field among all voters, with only 25% of voters reporting positive views of the GOP candidates.

-----Similarly, an ABC / Washington Post poll shows only 36% of voters saying they approve of most of what the Republican candidates have been saying.

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