Today Republicans hold caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota, and a non-binding “beauty contest” primary in Missouri. And thanks largely to Newt Gingrich’s lack of organization and Ron Paul’s lack of support, Rick Santorum has a relatively clean shot at Mitt Romney in these states, and could win two or even three.

Public Policy Polling, which has conducted surveys in all three states, shows Santorum likely to win in Missouri (where Gingrich is not on the ballot) and Minnesota, and to run a strong second to Romney in Colorado. Here’s PPP’s Tom Jensen on why Ricky’s doing so well:

Santorum’s personal popularity is the main reason for his sudden reemergence as a relevant player in the GOP race. In all 3 of these states his favorability is over 70%- 74/17 in Minnesota, 72/17 in Missouri, and 71/19 in Colorado. He’s far better liked than his main opponents- Romney’s favorability is 47-60% in those states and Gingrich’s is 47-48%. While Romney and Gingrich have hammered each other in recents weeks Santorum’s been largely left alone and he’s benefiting from that now.

There are three groups Santorum’s winning in all three of these states: Tea Partiers, Evangelicals, and those describing themselves as ‘very conservative.’ Those were groups that had previously been in Gingrich’s column, but it appears right leaning Republican voters are shifting toward Santorum as their primary alternative to Romney. If Santorum does pick up 2 wins and a 2nd place finish tomorrow that trend is likely to be accelerated.

In the state he is most likely to lose, Colorado, Santorum has been ringing up some big endorsements, with former statewide candidates Bob Schaeffer, Jane Norton, and nativist chieftain Tom Tancredo all lining up with him. He also had an interesting moment in Colorado Springs with another prominent supporter, Christian Right eminence grise James Dobson:

“This could be the place where it turns around,” Dobson said at an evening rally, trying to motivate followers of his conservative group to join Santorum’s coalition.

“I have great concern about the other individuals in this race. … It would appear to me that Mitt Romney is not a conservative. And Newt Gingrich, I don’t know what he is,” Dobson said.

Someone shouted from the back of the room: “Swinger.”

The most immediate implication of a big day for Santorum will be to keep him in the race for a while longer, which will also help keep opponents of Mitt Romney nicely divided. But Ricky will richly enjoy his day in the sun, which might be his last in this race.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.