"This was a gut punch. Nobody saw it coming."
That's how former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer described tonight's action on CNN -- a three-state sweep by Rick Santorum that just came out of the blue.
I expected that tonight Santorum might displace Newt Gingrich as the conservative alternative to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. I did not expect that he would go further, threatening Romney himself. The evening began as a nice boost for an underdog. It ended as an unmitigated disaster for the frontrunner.
Romney failed tonight to carry a single county in Missouri's beauty contest primary. Although the results are not in yet, he may not carry a single county in Minnesota, either.
But nowhere is the surprise as great as it was in Colorado, which Romney won easily in 2008. Santorum did far better than expected in the Denver Metro area, and crushed Romney in Republican-heavy Colorado Springs and the northern part of the state.
As for Gingrich, it is hard to see why anyone would give him a dime after today. He finished last in Minnesota and will barely make third in Colorado. (He chose not to appear on the Missouri ballot.) Keep an eye on the polls of Arizona and Michigan in the coming days. If Santorum starts taking away Gingrich's support, it's a sign that, finally, conservatives are coalescing around a candidate.