After a clean sweep of three states Tuesday, Rick Santorum can ride his momentum for the next three weeks.
The next big GOP primaries won't come until Feb. 28, when Arizona and Michigan take to the polls, leaving little to talk about in the way of GOP vote results, except drawn out caucuses in the small states of Maine and Wyoming.
Santorum has said he will focus his momentum on Michigan, where demographics and voting issues could supply fertile territory for his campaign themes.
The former Pennsylvania senator won the caucus states of Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday, plus the mostly meaningless Missouri primary, where Republicans' main voting event will be caucuses on March 17. In doing so, Santorum put himself in a strong position for the dead zone of the Republican primary-the stretch between Florida's Jan. 31 vote and the Feb. 28 contests. There is a nearly month-long run featuring mainly caucus states that will not "award" delegates.
Candidates, as expected, spent less time and money on those caucus states than they did on the January primaries in South Carolina and Florida. Nevada awarded delegates based on its Feb. 4 results, but Colorado won't award any until state conventions held later. Minnesota won't award any at all.
Until Feb. 28, the only contests are in Maine and Washington-caucus states where precincts will vote over date ranges suggested by the state parties.
Here's how the GOP voting calendar lines up in the near future. Despite Mitt Romney's losses on Tuesday, he's still facing a run of states where he performed well in 2008.
Santorum: On to Michigan
The former Pennsylvania senator figures to devote heavy attention to Michigan in the coming weeks.
While Romney enjoys the natural advantage of hailing from the state, where his father served as governor, and while Romney won Michigan by nine percentage points in 2008, Santorum has some cause for optimism.
Since the beginning of the campaign, Santorum's central focus has been a pitch to working-class voters in the upper Midwest and industrial rust belt-voters who've seen manufacturing jobs disappear over the last decade and a half. Santorum has repeatedly framed his economic policy as a manufacturing-first agenda. Michigan's economy, of course, is tied its manufacturing base and the automotive industry.
"We think Michigan's a great place for us to plant our flag and talk about jobs and manufacturing," Santorum said during an appearance on NBC Wednesday morning.
Delegate Math: How Long Will This Thing Take?
With no candidate approaching the number of delegates needed to win, this campaign could take a while.
Rick Santorum didn't add any delegates to his total yesterday, but ABC and other outlets have estimated how unbound delegates from Colorado and Minnesota will vote, based on the statewide results.
The current ABC News delegate estimate shows Romney (91) leading Santorum (44), Gingrich (29), and Paul (8). Jon Huntsman will get to pick two New Hampshire delegates and will presumably encourage them to support Romney, whom Huntsman endorsed upon exiting the race.
That total includes a sizable number of unbound delegates who could be swayed by rival campaigns. Few of Santorum's estimated delegates will be required to support him at the Republican National Convention, under state-party rules.
In order to win the nomination, a candidate will need the votes of 1144 delegates on the convention floor-a majority of the 2286 total Republican delegates. Technically, no candidate will be able to accrue the obligated support of enough "bound" delegates to seal the nomination before late April.
Far From Clarity
Tuesday's caucus results put a halt to the growing momentum for Mitt Romney, and, without much happening until Feb. 28, the voting calendar won't allow him much chance to further cultivate his air of inevitability.
Santorum and Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, won't have the opportunity to approach Romney in the delegate count until Super Tuesday.
The upshot: With its 397 bound delegates, and 437 delegates total, Super Tuesday may bestow some clarity on the Republican nominating picture. But with many of those delegates awarded proportionally, or doled out to winners of individual congressional districts, it's less likely that March 6 will deliver the nomination to a single candidate.
Unless one candidate picks up significant momentum in Arizona and Michigan and parlays it into a convincing, across-the-board win on March 6, the campaign will likely keep going for a while.