They don’t like him. They really don’t like him.

Mitt Romney’s surprising trio of losses to Rick Santorum in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado shows once again that he simply can’t get core GOP constituencies to come to terms with him as the party’s nominee. Nate Silver does the dive into the numbers:

Mr. Romney has had deep problems so far with the Republican base, going 1-for-4 in caucus states where turnout is dominated by highly conservative voters. Mr. Romney is 0-for-3 so far in the Midwest, a region that is often decisive in the general election. He had tepid support among major blocks of Republican voters like evangelicals and Tea Party supporters, those voters making under $50,000 per year, and those in rural areas.

Meanwhile, polls show that a large number of Republicans have tepid enthusiasm for their field. And this has been reflected in the turnout so far, which is down about 10 percent from 2008 among Republican registrants and identifiers.

These are not the hallmarks of a race with a dominant candidate.

The loss of Colorado, which should have been a lock for Romney, is particularly interesting: The state will be key in the general election, as Obama is hoping that holding the western states will offset expected Rust Belt losses.

Even if Romney is still likely to win the nomination, expect a fresh round of panic among Republicans over whether his showing yesterday signals a likely lack of GOP enthusiasm for him this fall that will make it marginally tougher to win in the most closely contested swing states.

I continue to wonder whether Romney’s weaknesses as a general election candidate have been papered over by the far more glaring weaknesses of his rivals. Republicans may look at yesterday’s results and see that paper peeling back a bit.

* Romney’s “unremarkable” record on jobs: Morning must-read: Jia Lynn Yang has a nicely reported piece on Romney’s first effort to show that private sector experience translates well into public sector job creation, his main rationale for running for president. As Yang reveals, it really didn’t go too well.

Key quote, from an expert: “There was not one measure where the state did well under his term in office. We were below average and often near the bottom.”

Interestingly, the debate over Romney’s alleged “job creation” at Bain years has distracted from what is arguably a more important metric to judge the core argument of his candidacy: His unremarkable stint in public service, at least when it comes to job creation.

* Republicans admit they’re losing payroll tax fight: The talks have hit an impasse over, among other things, the Dem insistence that in some form or other millionaires should chip in a bit to help fund a tax cut for 160 million working Americans, and Jim DeMint makes a striking concession:

“Now Republicans have our backs against the wall,” Mr. DeMint said. “We can’t win the argument. We’re going to have to go on to something else.”

This isn’t all that mysterious: Many conservatives simply don’t support this tax cut for working people, whether or not it’s paid for by a small sacrifice by the very wealthy. The only way they can stomach it is to extract other concessions from Dems — which they aren’t willing to give up — in order to be able to claim victory.

* Could payroll tax cut extension fail? Lawmakers on both sides appear to be taking seriously the possiblity that the payroll conference committee could fail, meaning taxes would go up on 160 million Americans, with untold and far reaching political consequences for the Congressional and presidential elecitons.

* GOP places hopes on Obama budget: Congressional Republicans, eager to get past the payroll tax cut mess, are hoping that Obama’s budget will give the fractured party something to unify against.

The question remains whether Paul Ryan’s vow to revive his Medicare plan will again revive some of the dynamics that damaged House Republicans last year — ones that could also complicate life for the eventual GOP presidential nominee. Remember: Romney fully embraced the Ryan Medicare plan.

* Obama edges ahead of Romney in Virginia: The President is now leading Romney in the key swing state of Virginia for the first time in Quinnipiac polling, 47-43, and he’s opened a narrow lead among Virginia independents, 45-41.

This is a key state to watch: The Obama campaign is hoping that demographic shifts and the improving economy enable him to hold on to it after making an impressive breakthrough there last time (the first time a Dem won the state since 1964). New South states like Virginia and North Carolina could also be important in offsetting expected Rust Belt losses.

* White House searches for compromise on contraception: With the politics of the decision on contraception and Catholic institutions veering out of control, Obama administration officials grope towards a way out:

Administration officials say one avenue for resolution might be to look at how Catholic institutions in the 28 states with similar laws have dealt with the issue. One possible compromise might be to emulate Hawaii, where the rule is in effect, but where employees at religious institutions that do not offer free contraception can get birth control through side benefits, which the employees nominally pay for but which often end up being free.

Any emerging compromise will be closely scrutinized to see whether it preserves universal access to birth control. After the Obama administration’s Plan B debacle, women’s groups will be particularly vigilent about the possibility of a cave to the “pro-life” forces.

* Why Republicans are attacking Obama over contraception: They think the subtext plays in their favor:

They believe that Obama, in approving the new regulation, played into their long-running critiques that he is anti-religion and eager to expand the reach of government.

Of course, this is contraception we’re talking about here...

* Foreclosure settlement stalls: Yesterday, Eric Schneiderman abruptly canceled a news conference where he was expected to endorse the proposed settlement with banks over forclosure practices. Brady Dennis ferrets out the reason why: Several banks want Schneiderman to drop a separate lawsuit he’s pursuing against financial firms over their allegedly deceptive mortgage practices.

Schneiderman’s reaction to the settlement will be closely watched by liberal groups who are frustrated with the Obama administration for not going far enough in holding banks accountable.

* And no, the Super PAC reversal is not “hypocrisy”: Kevin Drum does the honors:

The playing field is the playing field, and once a public policy has been legally put in place you’d be a sap not to play by the same rules as everyone else.

As I noted here yesterday, this is the choice Dems face. Either they can lead by example — which is to say, by setting an example that Republicans will never agree to — and give the GOP a lopsided advantage in outside spending. Or they can play by the rules as Republicans have defined them, and continue to work to change those rules.

What else?