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Live Coverage: Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri

Republicans today are holding caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a primary in Missouri. Mitt Romney is hoping to hold off the other Republican candidates and continue his two-state winning streak. We’ll be bringing you data-driven analysis, historical perspective and results as they become available.

1:13 A.M. Low Enthusiasm Costs Romney in Colorado

We have repeatedly noted the pattern in which Mr. Romney’s stronger states and counties have been associated with lower Republican turnout.

So far, it was not clear that this had lost Mr. Romney a state — save perhaps Iowa, when virtually anything might have altered the result.

But in Colorado, where the demographics were reasonably favorable to Mr. Romney — he won 60 percent of the vote there in 2008 — it may have made the difference. Mr. Romney’s stronger areas in the state were associated with turnout declines of about 20 percent. But turnout was steady or slightly up in places where Rick Santorum did well.

Among other problems for Mr. Romney, this suggests that suggests that the caucus states could be problematic rather than advantageous to Mr. Romney, with his superior organization being outmatched by very conservative voters who have low levels of enthusiasm for him.

Nate Silver

0:55 A.M. Romney Wins Jefferson County, But Not By Much

Jefferson County ( View on Map) , just to the West of Denver, just reported its results, and although Mr. Romney won the county, it was by a slim 208 votes.

With Santorum-friendly El Paso County still outstanding, Mr. Romney’s Jefferson result might not be enough to carry him to a statewide win.

Micah Cohen

0:51 A.M. Romney Also Loses Mesa County

The other swing county that we told you to watch in Colorado, Mesa County, has broken against Mr. Romney. Rick Santorum took 47 percent of the vote there, to Mr. Romney’s 36 percent.

Although Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum are virtually tied in network counts in Colorado right now, those figures do not include El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, where the Denver Post reported that Mr. Santroum netted about 1,700 votes.

Meanwhile, most of the remaining areas that have yet to report are rural and look slightly unfavorable on balance for Mr. Romney.

Nate Silver

0:47 A.M. Santorum Wins Pueblo County

We advised you just a moment ago to watch the results in Pueblo County, and they have now been revealed. Rick Santorum took 44 percent of the vote there to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent, a big decline from Mr. Romney’s 62 percent of the vote in 2008.

Turnout in the country was 1,256 votes, up slightly from 1,225 in 2008. We have seen a pattern tonight in which turnout is reasonably steady in areas that Mr. Romney loses, but has trended downward in counties that he won.

Nate Silver

0:45 A.M. Watch Mesa County and Pueblo

Two counties that could prove decisive in Colorado are Pueblo County in central Colorado ( View on Map) and Mesa County ( View on Map) along the state’s western border with Utah — they have yet to report any results.

Mr. Romney performed well in Pueblo County in 2008, winning 62 percent of the vote. But he saw a significant decline this year in surrounding counties.

Mr. Romney took 67 percent of the vote in 2008 in Mesa County, home to Grand Junction. The county’s border with Utah means that it has a larger Mormon population. But we have seen very few results so from counties that border Utah, so it is hard to anticipate how well Mr. Romney’s numbers will hold up there.

Nate Silver

0:29 A.M. Romney Wins Denver

Mitt Romney got a decent result in Denver County ( View on Map), taking 40 percent of the vote there to Rick Santorum’s 29 percent.

However, as was also the case in the Denver suburbs, turnout was down from 2008 — 3,249 votes tonight versus 4,071 four years ago — somewhat blunting the impact.

Mr. Romney now leads in CNN’s vote count in Colorado, 37 percent to 35 percent.

However, the balance of the precincts yet to report in Colorado look slightly unfavorable to Mr. Romney. CNN’s total does not include Colorado Springs, where Mr. Romney lost badly based on an account from the Denver Post. Meanwhile, most of the vote from Denver and its suburbs is accounted for.

Nate Silver

0:24 A.M. Colorado Springs Puts Romney in Hole in Colo.

According to Jeremy Meyer of the Denver Post, Mitt Romney is losing badly to Rick Santorum in El Paso County ( View on Map), home to Colorado Springs, trailing him by about 1,700 votes with 193 of 199 precincts reporting.

This could make Mr. Romney’s math very difficult in Colorado. He won 59 percent of the vote in El Paso County in 2008, close to his statewide total. Although the area has a large number of evangelical voters, it is closer to being a swing region than other parts of the state in the context of a Republican caucus.

Nate Silver

0:12 A.M. Romney Tracking to 35 Percent of Vote in Colorado

Here is a chart comparing how Mitt Romney performed in each county in Colorado in 2008 as compared to tonight.

Although there has been some variance from county to county, especially in smaller areas with more idiosyncratic demographics, in general Mr. Romney is getting about 60 percent as much of the vote as he did in 2008.

That would put him on track for about 35 percent of the vote statewide, which would make tonight’s result quite close.

It should be noted, however, that this method does not count for changes in turnout between 2008 and 2012. If we continue to observe a pattern wherein turnout is steady in Mr. Romney’s weakest areas but poor in his stronger ones, that could put him under 35 percent of the vote, at which point it looks like he would lose to Rick Santorum.

Nate Silver

11:47 P.M. Colo. Turnout Up in Romney’s Weakest Areas

Here’s why Mitt Romney is vulnerable to a loss in Colorado tonight. Although indications are that turnout is down in the Denver suburbs, where Mr. Romney runs strongly, the same is not true in outlying areas of the state, where he is losing by a wide margin to Rick Santorum.

Some 16 counties outside of the Denver area had reported all of their results as of 11:40 P.M. In total, there were 1,512 votes in those counties, up slightly from 1,480 in 2008.

Nate Silver

11:36 P.M. Turnout: Adams County

As we noted, the vote shares in Adams County ( View on Map) are not encouraging for Romney supporters. But another point that stands out in the county’s results are the overall vote totals.

In 2008, 3,359 Republicans caucused in Adams County. Just 2,518 people came out this year, a 25 percent drop. That disparity may not prevail through the rest of Colorado’s counties. But if it does, Colorado would follow every other state that has voted except South Carolina in seeing a depressed Republican turnout compared to 2008.

Micah Cohen

11:26 P.M. Trouble for Romney in Adams County, Colo.

In the first two counties to report from metropolitan Denver, Mr. Romney was performing well enough that he appeared to be the favorite to win Colorado, even though his vote totals were down significantly from 2008.

But the result from Adams County — which unlike the others, has reported all of its vote — is potentially much more problematic for him. Mr. Romney won just 31 percent of the vote there, down from 67 percent in 2008.

If Mr. Romney encounters more results like that, he might be tracking more toward 30 or 35 percent of the vote in Colorado rather than 40 percent, making him much more vulnerable to a loss.

Nate Silver

11:20 P.M. Missouri Beauty Contest Turns Off Voters

With almost all of the votes counted in Missouri’s primary tonight, turnout is tracking to about 250,000 votes.

About 590,000 Republicans voted in the Missouri primary in 2008, when the primary there counted toward delegate selection.

Incidentally, although Republicans have had disappointing turnout in some other states, I don’t think that this one is in the same vein. It likely reflects the diminished importance that voters are placing on a purely symbolic contest, rather than anything more fundamental.

Nate Silver

11:06 P.M. Romney’s County Problem

Based on the results reported as of 11 P.M., Mitt Romney was leading in no counties in either Minnesota or Missouri.

Indeed, Mr. Romney is doing quite poorly to date in the Republican race outside of wealthy urban counties, a pattern that, in general elections, is more characteristic of Democrats.

Among the five states to have voted before tonight, plus the in-progress results from Minnesota and Missouri, Mr. Romney has won only 73 counties from among the 412 to have reported results in the Republican nomination race so far, giving him an 18 percent success rate.

Nate Silver

10:43 P.M. Reader Comment: Romney’s Strategy

A FiveThirtyEight reader, Matthew H., stepped into the shoes of a Romney campaign strategist, and made this prediction:

For the next few primaries (Arizona, Michigan and Super Tuesday), Romney is going to take no chances on relaxing his attack. And he is going to spend lots of money to advertise. I guess Romney figured that these contests were relatively low-profile and low-impact, and that even if he slipped a little, it wouldn’t matter. But he isn’t just slipping a little, he is getting his entire narrative of “nevability” taken apart in three geographically diverse, and important states…two of which he won in 2008.

So I expect the next few weeks to see strong negative attacks on Santorum, and Gingrich, across Arizona, Michigan and many of the Super Tuesday states…and since it cost over 10 million to advertise in Florida for a week, how much money and goodwill is Romney going to have to spend to get back to “inevability” in Michigan and Ohio?

If that prediction holds true, the Romney campaign will have plenty of time before the next contests to hammer away at its rivals. Arizona and Michigan hold their primaries on Feb. 28.

Micah Cohen

10:45 P.M. Romney Holding Serve in Denver Suburbs

The first results from the Denver metropolitan area are in and they should come as a relief to Mitt Romney. He has 49 percent of the vote in Douglas County so far and 53 percent in Arapahoe County.

In both cases, Mr. Romney’s numbers are down from in 2008, when he won 72 percent in Douglas County and 66 percent in Arapahoe — but not catastrophically so given how wide Mr. Romney’s margin was in Colorado that year.

If Mr. Romney gets those sort of numbers elsewhere in the Denver area, he should have a lot of cushion to do poorly elsewhere.

One important thing to watch is whether Rick Santroum is finishing second in these areas, or instead falling behind Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. My back-of-the-envelope guess is that Mr. Romney is on track for something like 40 percent of the vote statewide or maybe just a bit shy of that. That could be enough for him to lose if most of the remaining votes are going for Mr. Santorum, but not if they are divided between several other opponents.

Nate Silver

10:26 P.M. Viability vs. Momentum

Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner has a good article reminding us that momentum has been very weak so far in this nomination cycle. (We have written on the same theme before.)

Mitt Romney’s big wins in Nevada and Florida did not seem to do him much good tonight.

The flip side is that momentum from Rick Santorum’s wins in Missouri and Minnesota could evaporate by the time that Arizona and Michigan vote on Feb. 28.

But the dynamics here are different in one important respect. If Mr. Romney is having a poor night, Newt Gingrich is having an even worse one — he was not even on the ballot in Missouri and he is running in dead last in Minnesota.

Most polls of Republican voters have shown Mr. Santorum with stronger favorability ratings than Mr. Gingrich. Mr. Gingrich was doing slightly better in national polls, and in most of the recent states. But this may have been because voters thought that Mr. Gingrich was more viable than Mr. Santorum, even if they liked Mr. Santorum better.

Tonight could reverse that perception and put Mr. Gingrich in a dire position, possibly to Mr. Santorum’s benefit. And those gains — which would reflect rational and strategic behavior on the part of Republican voters rather than whimsical shifts based on momentum — could possibly be longer lasting.

Nate Silver

10:14 P.M. Santorum Dominant in Missouri

It should be remembered that no delegates will be awarded to the winner of the primary in Missouri, which will instead hold caucuses in March. And Rick Santorum made more of an effort to win the state than the other candidates.

Still, it is harder to write the result off as a fluke given Mr. Santorum’s margin of victory there — and his geographic dominance. Mr. Romney held leads early on in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, but has since lost them as more votes have been counted. In fact, Mr. Romney leads in just one Missouri county right now, Boone County, where only two precincts have reported results.

Nate Silver

10:12 P.M. Hennepin County Spells Trouble for Romney

To the growing list of troubling signs for Mr. Romney in Minnesota, add this: he’s currently in third place in Hennepin County ( View on Map) . It’s still early, but this is a county where Mr. Romney should have expected to do well based on history and demographics.

Hennepin County includes Minneapolis, but it is mostly suburbs, an area dominated by more affluent, better-educated Republicans. Mr. Romney won 46 percent of the vote there in 2008.

With about a fifth of precincts reporting, Mr. Santorum leads in Hennepin County with 35 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Paul with 29 percent. Although things could shift, Mr. Romney is on track to receive about half of his 2008 vote share there.

Micah Cohen

9:55 P.M. Too Soon for Romney to Panic in Colorado

Results so far in Colorado have been disappointing for Mitt Romney. He has only 19 percent of the vote from the six counties that have reported results so far.

However, these rural counties are among Mr. Romney’s weaker areas in the state. In the six counties combined, he won just 36 percent of the vote in 2008 — considerably less than the 60 percent he took statewide. Mr. Romney should have plenty of opportunity to make up ground in Denver and its wealthy suburbs, where he ran very strongly in 2008.

This is not to suggest that Mr. Romney is assured of victory in Colorado. His vote share has fallen by about half in these rural counties. If it were also to fall that much in Denver and its suburbs, he would be tracking to about 30 percent of the vote statewide, possibly low enough for him to lose to Mr. Santorum. But it’s premature to make any assumptions about how the suburban counties will behave until we see some of their results.

Nate Silver

9:42 P.M. Paul Strong in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Ron Paul is leading the vote count so far in both Hennepin County and Ramsay County, home to Minneapolis and St. Paul, respectively — and to large numbers of college students. Mr. Paul looks to have decent chances of finishing ahead of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in Minnesota, where Rick Santorum has a lead so far.

Hennepin and Ramsey Counties are slightly ahead of the statewide pace, having reported 10 percent of their results versus 7 percent elsewhere.

Nate Silver

9:25 P.M. Turnout Benchmarks from 2008

In addition to who wins, places and shows, one thing political observers will be paying attention to tonight is turnout. In almost all of the states that have voted so far, Republicans have gone to the polls in smaller numbers than they did in 2008, and the better Mitt Romney has done the lower turnout has been.

Poor turnout could mean that voters are less enchanted by this year’s crop of candidates. Although, that could always change. In addition, a depressed primary turnout does not guarantee that Republicans will not turn out in November.

Here are the turnout numbers for Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri from 2008 (delegates were actually at stake in Missouri’s 2008 primary, while this year’s primary is non-binding, so the comparison isn’t really fair):

Minnesota caucus — 62,828.

Colorado caucus — 70,229.

Missouri primary — 588,844.

Micah Cohen

9:28 P.M. Santorum Leads in K.C. Suburbs

Here’s a very good sign for Rick Santorum in Missouri. He leads Mitt Romney in two suburban counties just east of Kansas City — Jackson County and Clay County — both of which Mr. Romney won in 2008.

Mr. Santorum’s lead in Jackson County is slight, 38 percent to 35 percent. But he leads by 27 percent in Clay County, which has counted a much higher fraction of its votes.

So far, Mr. Romney has shown strength only in St. Louis and its suburbs, which is not likely to be enough to allow him to win the state.

Nate Silver

9:22 P.M. How Safe Is Romney in Colorado?

It’s still very early, but Mitt Romney is having a poor night in Minnesota so far. He’s losing in each of the seven counties that have reported caucus results and is in third place in many of them, putting him about 28 points behind Rick Santorum statewide.

Mr. Romney is also struggling in Missouri so far, although it’s harder to extrapolate the results in that state because of its stark urban-rural divide.

Still, based on the results we have so far, it appears as though Mr. Santorum could beat his polling by a decent margin in both Minnesota and Missouri. Polling errors are often strongly correlated when states vote on the same night, and if Mr. Santorum did the same thing in Colorado — where he trailed Mr. Romney by 10 points in the Public Policy Polling survey there — he could go three-for-three tonight.

Nate Silver

9:01 P.M. Intrade Confident of Santorum Win in Minnesota

Although only four counties have reported portions of their results so far in Minnesota, they represent fairly diverse cross-section of the state geographically and demographically, and Rick Santorum is winning each of them so far.

The betting market Intrade now gives Mr. Santorum a 96 percent chance of winning Minnesota, up from about 80 percent before the vote-counting began.

Nate Silver

8:44 P.M. Missouri’s Urban-Rural Divide

If there’s one state to be careful about making extrapolations from early vote counts, it’s Missouri, where St. Louis, Kansas City and their surrounding suburbs vote much differently than the rest of the state.

In 2008, Mitt Romney and John McCain won almost all of these urban and suburban counties, while Mike Huckabee won almost all of the rural ones.

So far, the pattern seems to be holding again. Mr. Romney leads Rick Santorum 44 percent to 27 percent in votes counted in St. Louis County and St. Louis City so far. But Mr. Santorum has a lead of about 15 to 20 points among votes counted elsewhere in the state.

Nate Silver

8:37 P.M. Sweet Home Chisago

Although it’s a little early to make much of the results from Minnesota, where barely more than 100 votes have been reported so far, the largest stash of ballots is from Chisago County, north of Minneapolis, where about 20 percent of precincts have reported.

Rick Santorum leads there with 53 percent of the vote so far, a bad sign for Mitt Romney, who won the county with 48 percent of the vote in 2008.

Nate Silver

8:32 P.M. A Vote for No One is a Vote for Newt

Although Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot in Missouri’s “beauty contest” primary, voters do have the option of voting for an “uncommitted” ballot line. Once more common in primaries and caucuses — uncommitted “won” the Iowa Democratic caucuses in 1972 and 1976 — the uncommitted option has become more rare in recent years.

With about 1 percent of precincts reporting, around 7 percent of voters in Missouri have gone for uncommitted so far, according to the Secretary of State’s count there.

Nate Silver

8:20 P.M. Coke or Pepsi, Primary or Caucus

As the Republican nominating process moves from state to state, one of the first things we do here at FiveThirtyEight is look at the state’s electoral history to help shed light on the current contest. But in the three states voting tonight, the historical record is thinner.

The reason: all three states have switched between caucuses and primaries.

Colorado — In the 1988 Democratic caucuses, Jesse Jackson was neck-and-neck with the front-runner, Michael Dukakis. As the results were compiled over the next several hours, Mr. Jackson accused the chairman of Colorado’s Democratic Party of deliberately counting the votes slowly so Mr. Jackson’s apparent success would not affect Wisconsin, which voted the day after Colorado (Mr. Dukakis ended up losing the state).

Largely in response to that fiasco, Colorado adopted a primary in 1992 and continued in this vain through 2000 (the only really competitive primary was the 1992 Democratic race. Jerry Brown barely edged out Bill Clinton, 29 percent to 27 percent). In 2004, the state went back to holding caucuses.

Minnesota — The Land of 10,000 Lakes usually holds a caucus, but for whatever reason, every 40 or so years they decide to hold a primary. The state held primaries in 1916, 1952, 1956 and 1992. Oddly enough, a tight Bill Clinton-Jerry Brown race rears its head here, too. In Minnesota’s last primary, Bill Clinton topped Jerry Brown by 0.5 percent, 31.1 to 30.6.

Missouri — The state held its first primary in 1988, then held caucuses in 1992 and 1996. In 2000, it was back to primaries. Missouri managed to stick with primaries through 2008. This year, well, the state is holding both a caucus and a primary.

Micah Cohen

8:18 P.M. Colorado v. Nevada

Nevada’s Republican caucuses on Saturday received poor reviews from local and national political reporters — including yours truly — who criticized the low turnout, the state’s slowness to count the vote and start times that varied across the state and contributed to the confusion.

One state that might have aspirations of taking Nevada’s place on the early-voting calender is Colorado, which holds its caucuses tonight.

Colorado could improve its argument if it gets a higher turnout than Nevada, where 32,963 people voted on Saturday.

However, Colorado has a larger population than Nevada and roughly twice as many registered Republicans — about 800,000 versus 400,000 (if you count “inactive” Republicans too, Colorado has just over a million registered Republicans). For it to do as well as Nevada proportionately, it would need about 65,000 people to turn out tonight.

Slightly more than 70,000 Republicans voted in Colorado, so it could be a close call — although wintry weather in parts of the state could dampen turnout.

Nate Silver

7:51 P.M. Candidates Spending Most Time in States Can Beat Polls

As we mentioned a moment ago, Rick Santorum has spent considerably more time in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri than his Republican rivals. He had also been very active in Iowa, something that may have helped him to close strongly there.

But is there systematic evidence that candidates who more time in a state tend to beat their polls?

I looked at the results through the first five early voting states this year, comparing a candidate’s actual percentage of the vote versus their polling-based forecast. I then added another variable which represented the share of appearances that the candidate had made in the state in the last 30 days of the campaign, according to the Washington Post’s candidate tracker.

There is some modest evidence for the theory that candidate appearances can help a candidate to beat his polls. The coefficient for the appearances variable is positive and verges on being statistically significant. Candidates who spent more time in a state tend to get the benefit of the doubt on election night, perhaps giving them an advantage of 2 to 4 percentage points above and beyond any benefit that is already reflected in the polls. The effect isn’t huge, but I’m inclined to think there is something there — I’ve also found this variable to be useful when conducting such analyses in the past, such as on the 2008 Democratic primaries.

The most recent example is Ron Paul, who made more appearances in Nevada than the other candidates and who beat his polling forecast by about 4 points there. Meanwhile, candidates who pull out of a state early in an effort to lower expectations an sometimes take some additional punishment from voters.

Nate Silver

7:33 P.M. Santorum’s Nose to the Grindstone

If primaries and caucuses are won and lost based on how much time candidates spend on the ground meeting voters, then Rick Santorum should be in for a good night.

According to the Washington Post’s primary tracker, Mr. Santorum has made 22 appearances in the last 30 days between Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. He also held the lead in visits in each individual state.

Ron Paul made seven visits among the three states, while Mitt Romney made three and Newt Gingrich just two.

Nate Silver

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.