Ford O'Connell Joins Chris Stirewalt For Fox News Live's Power Play At CPAC 2012

Ford O'Connell and The American Spectator's Quin Hillyer join Fox News' Chris Stirewalt On Fox News Live's Power Play from CPAC 2012 to discuss what it means to be a conservative, the status of Mitt Romney's presidential bid and Rick Santorum's latest surge in the Republican presidential primary.

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In Upcoming Contests, Pressure Is On Romney

Many U.S. Republicans may have growing concerns about their presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, but no one is pushing the panic button - yet.

That could change quickly, however, if Romney does not reverse Tuesday's three-state losing streak to Rick Santorum by winning in Arizona and Michigan on February 28, and then having a strong showing in 10 "Super Tuesday" contests on March 6.

Romney's losses on Tuesday - by 5 points in Colorado and by blowout margins of 20 in Missouri and 28 in Minnesota - were marked by low voter turnout and gave new life to questions about his ability to inspire conservative Republicans who distrust him for his tenure as governor in liberal Massachusetts.

The apparent lack of enthusiasm, Republican strategists acknowledged, also fueled doubts about Romney's prospects for luring independent voters in a potential race against Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.

Another stumble, the strategists said, could cause many in the party's establishment to rethink their backing of Romney and remind them of why they doubted him to begin with.

Meanwhile, national polls indicate that the percentage of independent voters who view him negatively has risen in recent weeks. Obama's campaign issued a memo from pollster Joel Benenson, cheerfully noting the decline.

"If Romney can't win Republicans now, how is he going to win independents in November?" said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "He had a chance to knock this race out of the park and he hasn't done it."

Read more from John Whitesides and Sam Youngman at Reuters

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Triumphant Santorum Takes Fight Into Romney’s Backyard: Michigan

Rick Santorum will take the fight for the Republican presidential nomination to Mitt Romney in Michigan, the state where Romney grew up and where his father served as governor.

“We’re heading to Michigan,” Santorum said on MSNBC Wednesday morning, the day after he swept caucuses in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. “We think Michigan is a great place for us to plant our flag and talk about jobs and opportunities for everybody in America to rise.”

The state, which votes on Feb. 28, is a must-win for Romney to remain the front-runner. If he loses on his home turf one week before Super Tuesday, on March 6, it will reinforce the idea that he is beatable and at odds with his party’s conservative base, and it will give whoever wins in Michigan massive momentum.

Romney’s campaign has pivoted to attack Santorum in recent days, hitting out at his past support of earmarks and criticizing him as a Washington insider. After Santorum said Wednesday that the problem with Washington was its culture more than its leaders, Romney’s campaign took the quotation out of context to slam him as a Washington insider.

But many GOP strategists say Santorum’s record gives Romney much less to work with than Gingrich.

“Romney will have to come up with a positive reason to vote for him between now and Michigan,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who is unaffiliated in the race. “He can’t just go negative against Santorum, because there’s not as much to go after as there was with Gingrich.”

Read more from Cameron Joseph at The Hill

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What Santorum Needs To Do To Keep Momentum

If Rick Santorum was ever going to reemerge as a serious presidential contender, it had to be Tuesday. And he delivered, with stunning victories in ColoradoMinnesota, and Missouri.

Now comes the hard part: raising enough money and building enough organization to compete effectively in the coming contests – two on Feb. 28 and 10 on Super Tuesday, March 6.

But the reality is that the wounded Mitt Romney still has a formidable war chest, outside groups raising big money to support him with ads, and a vast organization. He raised 25 times more money than Santorum in the fourth quarter of 2011. All last year, Mr. Romney raised $56 million to Santorum’s $2.1 million.

Another challenge before Santorum is the continued presence of Newt Gingrich in the race. If Mr. Gingrich were to drop out, Santorum suggests that he would have a clean shot at Romney, as the sole mainstream conservative in the race.

Santorum says he will focus on Michigan over Arizona, because Michigan awards delegates proportionally, whereas Arizona is winner-take-all. If Santorum can do well in Michigan, home turf of sorts for Romney, that will send a signal he’s a serious player.

“Last night's result exposed the weaknesses in Romney's campaign more than the viability of Santorum's bid,” says Ford O’Connell, head of the conservative CivicForumPAC. “Romney is still the odds-on-favorite because ... neither Santorum or Newt has laid the proper foundation to go toe-to-toe with Mitt.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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Ford O'Connell At Politico's Arena: 'Is Rick Santorum Ready To Play Ball?'

The key takeaway from Santorum’s convincing hat trick on Tuesday night is not that the former Pennsylvania Senator is a viable contender for the Republican presidential nomination (at least not at this juncture), but that his strong victories exposed glaring deficiencies in Team Romney’s campaign strategy.

Instead of just touting business experience and going negative on his opponents, Team Romney needs to go back to the drawing board and give conservatives a better reason to pull the lever for him. If not, the bloodshed could continue for sometime.

Romney is still the odd-on-favorite to win the GOP nomination, but the clock is ticking. And if Romney is incapable of developing a passionate yet positive narrative for conservatives, his chances of defeating President Obama in the general could be damaged as well.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at Politico's "The Arena"

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Rick Santorum Wins GOP Contests In Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado But All Eyes On Mitt Romney

Rick Santorum may have swept Tuesday's GOP nominating contests in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, but on Wednesday all eyes were on Mitt Romney.

Political analysts say Santorum's wins says more about the ex-Massachusetts governor and solidifies the notion that voters are unsettled about Romney and that he's not the inevitable Republican presidential nominee.

"Mitt Romney wanted to roll into Super Tuesday as the presumptive nominee," GOP strategist Ford O'Connell told the Daily News. "That's not going to happen now... This really throws a wrench in the plan."

So what's next for the GOP hopefuls? There's big races in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28. And of course there's Super Tuesday on March 6.

Until then, analysts think Romney has a lot to do if he wants to seal the nomination.

“Romney hasn't told us why we should vote for him other than the economy," said O'Connell.

Read more from Aliyah Shahid at New York Daily News

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Republican Presidential Nomination Battle Could Be A Prolonged Slog

Solid analysis on the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, courtesy of the The New York Times' Nate Silver:

Whatever your perspective on how likely Mitt Romney was to lose the Republican nomination race prior to Tuesday evening, it should be acknowledged that he had about the worst results conceivable.

What’s more, the victor in all three states was Mr. Santorum, who is probably much more dangerous to Mr. Romney than Newt Gingrich. Mr. Gingrich had an awful evening, finishing a distant third in Colorado and last in Minnesota. But that may only work against Mr. Romney in the end.

Mr. Romney clearly has a lot of advantages in the nomination race, and Mr. Santorum will need to scale his campaign up to the national level, something he had failed to do successfully after Iowa.

[T]his race bears more resemblance to something like the 1984 Democratic contest or the 1976 Republican race. There was a favorite in each of those contests — Walter Mondale in 1984 and Gerald Ford in 1976 — and they were ahead in the delegate count more or less from start to finish.

But both contests progressed through all 50 states and were not that far from going to the convention. A few more missteps for Mr. Mondale or Mr. Ford, and the outcome might have been different.

The most generous interpretation of Tuesday night’s results is that Mr. Romney’s campaign failed to make much of an effort in the contests.

Fortunately for Mr. Romney, none of his rivals are in the same ballpark as Mrs. Clinton’s opponent, Barack Obama, as measured by metrics like fundraising, organizational strength, or oratorical skill. But Mr. Romney is not a strong enough candidate that he can afford more nights as bad as Tuesday.

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Santorum Claims Momentum With Wins In Three States

Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum claimed a surge of momentum and fundraising on Wednesday, a day after his shocking sweep of nominating contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri that dealt a blow to front-runner Mitt Romney.

Even though Romney holds strong advantages in financing and organization, his campaign will have to refocus to fight the challenge from Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania known for his socially conservative views.

"We definitely are the campaign with the momentum, the enthusiasm on the ground," Santorum said on CNN.

For Romney, Tuesday's results included losses in two states - Colorado and Minnesota - that he won in his unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. Minnesota also became the first state where Romney did not end up in first or second place.

The startling results raised fresh doubts about whether Romney, a wealthy former private equity executive and former Massachusetts governor, can extend his support from the party establishment to win over a broad swath of Republican voters.

"Team Romney might need to tweak its strategy. So far they've been successful in going negative on their opponents and touting his business experience," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said. "But obviously Republican primary voters are hungry for something more. A lot of folks see him as a single-issue candidate right now."

Read more from Steve Holland At Reuters 

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Analysis: Romney Still Struggles To Seal The Deal

Mitt Romney's march to a possible Republican presidential nomination just got a lot longer and harder.

Front-runner Romney left Tuesday's round of three nominating contests with another reminder of his own shortcomings, after a two-state winning streak that had placed him firmly in the driver's seat in the nomination race.

Bad losses to rival Rick Santorum in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota raised more questions about whether conservative Republicans are ready to give their hearts to a millionaire former Massachusetts governor who once supported abortion rights and a government requirement that people have health insurance.

Romney may still be the front-runner in the race to pick the Republican candidate to challenge President Barack Obama in the November 6 U.S. election. But nothing is coming easily for him in this most volatile of Republican nominating races.

The next big showdowns will be in Michigan and Arizona on February 28. Romney grew up in Michigan, where his father was a former governor and car executive, and Arizona could be another high-stakes showdown similar to Florida.

"He wanted to run through February and roll into Super Tuesday as the presumptive nominee, and that's just not going to happen now," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said. "This is a wake-up call for Romney, but it's not the end-all."

Super Tuesday is March 6, with contests in 10 states.

"Team Romney might need to tweak its strategy. So far they've been successful in going negative on their opponents and touting his business experience," O'Connell said.

"But obviously Republican primary voters are hungry for something more. A lot of folks see him as a single-issue candidate right now," he said.

Read more from John Whitesides at Reuters

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Santorum Gets Boost With Wins In Missouri and Minnesota

Rick Santorum won Minnesota and Missouri's nominating contests Tuesday night, giving him badly needed momentum heading into a three-week lull in voting.

While votes are still rolling in, Santorum held wide leads in both states over Mitt Romney, who was in third place behind Ron Paul in Minnesota. Colorado’s caucus results are just starting to trickle in.

Speaking to supporters in Missouri, Santorum targeted President Obama. "I don't stand here to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama," he said to cheers and screams from the crowd.

Santorum has won all three Midwestern states that have voted and will likely use those victories to sell himself as a more viable conservative alternative than Newt Gingrich.

“Santorum is now closer to assuming the anti-Romney mantle,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who is unaffiliated in the race. “This is a good start but the next two weeks are going to be extremely critical for him.”

Read more from Cameron Joseph at The Hill

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