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Romney vs. Santorum?

10:25 AM, Feb 6, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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To the Republicans of the states of Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado:

Santorum and Romney

This is your moment to vote on a subject that speaks its own importance—who will be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, the man (if I may quote myself!) “who will save us from the ghastly prospect of an Obama second term, and who will then have the task of beginning to put right our listing ship of state, setting our nation on a course to restored solvency, reinvigorated liberty, and renewed greatness.”

The voters of Iowa and New Hampshire winnowed the field down to four. The voters of South Carolina kept Newt Gingrich alive. The voters of Florida and Nevada reestablished Mitt Romney as the clear frontrunner. Now the race moves (back) to the Midwest.

Obviously, as you make your selection tomorrow, your main consideration must be who you think would be the best president of the United States. But you might also keep this in mind:

If Mitt Romney wins all three contests tomorrow, it's not the end of the race—but it might be the beginning of the end. Winning three out of five (the current situation) is good for a candidate; winning six out of eight is commanding. Are you convinced of the case for Romney? If so, vote for Mitt.

Ron Paul trails in polling in all three states. Those who are inclined to support him are perhaps more interested in Paul accumulating delegates (in Minnesota and Colorado) or in sending a message (in Missouri) than in anything else. But if you think it's in Paul's interest to keep the race alive, you might consider a tactical vote for the leading non-Romney alternative.

Who is . . . Rick Santorum. Gingrich isn't on the ballot in the Missouri “beauty contest” primary, and Paul trails badly. Missouri is pretty much a one-on-one match between Romney and Santorum. A Santorum victory would slow Romney's momentum—and would certainly give Santorum a boost—going forward.

In Minnesota and Colorado, the caucus system will result in a proportional allocation of delegates among the various candidates. But with polling showing Santorum even with Romney in Minnesota and second to Romney in Colorado, a strong showing for Santorum would do the most to slow the Romney juggernaut. It would also of course help Santorum's chances to replace Gingrich down the road as the alternative to Romney—an outcome that, I suspect, might well result in a better race for the nomination and a healthier situation for the ultimate Republican nominee.

A final point: vote. The Romney-Gingrich slugfest of negativity seems to have produced a low turnout in Florida and Nevada. But the choice before you remains no less important than it was before all the negative ads started airing. Indeed, you who will vote tomorrow have a chance to get us beyond the unseemly spectacle of the last couple of weeks. You can put Romney on a likely path to the nomination. Or you can create the possibility of a serious and constructive Romney vs. Santorum race.

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