Caucuses in Minn. And Colo., 'Beauty Contest' In Mo.

Minnesota and Colorado are holding caucuses Tuesday. And Missouri is holding a "beauty contest" primary, the outcome of which won't affect any of the state's GOP delegates. Host Audie Cornish talks with NPR's Don Gonyea about the contests.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The battle for the Republican nomination for president continues tonight. Caucuses are being held in Minnesota and Colorado, and Missouri held a nonbinding primary. Candidates have been campaigning in each of those states, even though no delegates will actually be awarded in any of them. Tonight, for a snapshot of the three races, we're joined by - from Minneapolis - by NPR National political correspondent Don Gonyea. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: And let's start with where you are in Minnesota. What's the scene there?

GONYEA: Well, we're waiting to see if this kind of late surge that some of the polls have indicated for Rick Santorum is real. The caucusing is underway. There are, actually, some early returns coming in from around the state. But the latest poll showed Rick Santorum with a lead of about nine points over Mitt Romney here, significant because Mitt Romney won the Minnesota caucuses four years ago.

Romney's in the 20's. He's there with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. It's funny, though. You look at these caucuses here, it's the caucus that might have been. Just recall at the start of all this, there were two Minnesota candidates in the presidential primary for the Republicans: Tim Pawlenty, he has endorsed Mitt Romney, so he still got a lot on the line here tonight, and Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party congresswoman who has not endorsed. That makes it a scramble among those non-Romney's who are looking for the Evangelical vote or the Tea Party vote or the libertarian vote.

SIEGEL: So that's the scene in Minnesota, possibly a strong showing by Santorum, we don't know yet. What about Colorado, which is also having caucuses? Who's doing well there?

GONYEA: It seems like Mitt Romney is doing well there. Again, the polls that we have, you know, there haven't been a lot of them, so we can't kind of stack them all up and get an average. But Romney has done well in the West. This should be Romney territory. You know, Nevada is nearby, and he just did very well in winning that caucus over the weekend. So Mitt Romney is actually also been campaigning more in Colorado than he has anywhere else of these three states. So again, he hopes to lead there.

SIEGEL: And then, Don, Missouri, where there is a so-called beauty contest primary, a race that's even less consequential than others this season. What's that's one about?

GONYEA: It is. In Colorado and in Minnesota, they're just nonbinding caucuses. But In Missouri, it literally is a meaningless beauty contest. And they will have their caucuses in six weeks. Rick Santorum is again polling very well there, and he'd love to get a victory in Missouri, even if it doesn't count. But here's what happened. Missouri kind of jumped the line, and they moved their primary up wanting to have more clout, more of an impact on who the eventual nominee is.

Then came the threat of sanctions, penalties from the RNC. So they tried to move their primary back, but then it got mired in state politics. So the primary is going on. Again, these votes will tell us who those who turn out we'll like. But the turnout is likely to be very low there as well, because people there know it's meaningless, and we'll all do it again with the caucuses in about a month and a half or so.

SIEGEL: Sometimes, there are signals just in the decision that the candidate makes about where to watch the results. So what's happening tonight in that regard?

GONYEA: Mitt Romney is in Denver, so he sees Colorado clearly as his - the place where he is most likely to get good news, though, he'd like it in more places. Ron Paul is here in Minneapolis. He is hoping students and libertarians turn out for him. Rick Santorum is in St. Charles, Missouri, again, hoping for a big win there. And that's where he has polled the best. Newt Gingrich - is worth noting - is in Ohio, which shows how well he expects to do here. But also, he's also looking ahead to Super Tuesday. And early voting is underway in Ohio, so he is working Ohio already.

SIEGEL: But, Don, if there are no delegates being awarded in all this today, what does it matter?

GONYEA: Well, for the challengers, it's, you know, it's a chance - it's any chance, it's the latest chance to show that they are still alive. If any of them wins, they will be holding it up as further evidence that Mitt Romney is vulnerable, that he is not inevitable.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

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