Elections 2012: Rick Santorum Wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri

Former U.S. senator Rick Santorum rejuvenated his presidential hopes on Tuesday with a shocking sweep of the three nominating contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, dealing a blow to wounded front-runner Mitt Romney.

Rick Santorum’s victories on Tuesday represent his first breakout moments in the Republican presidential contest since he belatedly scraped to the top in Iowa more than a month ago. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Santorum trounced Romney by 30 percentage points in Missouri. That vote was a non-binding primary, but has symbolic value as a measure of support in a big Midwestern state.

According to Reuters, in Minnesota’s caucuses, Santorum won with 45 percent of the vote. But in another setback to former Massachusetts governor Romney, U.S. congressman Ron Paul was in second place with 27 percent and Romney was a distant third with 17 percent.

The race was closer in Colorado, but Romney had been expected to win easily. But Santorum won by 5 percentage points over Romney.

“Wow. Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota,” Santorum told supporters in St. Charles, Missouri after results were tallied in those states but before the Colorado numbers came in.

“I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” Mr. Santorum said after thanking God for getting him through the “dog days” of the campaign and the illness of his daughter Bella. “I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”

With his triumphs, Mr. Santorum was also suddenly presenting new competition to Newt Gingrich as the chief alternative to Mr. Romney, the front-runner.

Where Mr. Gingrich has won one state, South Carolina, Mr. Santorum has now won four, including Iowa.

He now faces two major questions: Can he eclipse his immediate rival, Newt Gingrich, and become the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney? And will he be able to pose a realistic threat to Mr. Romney, who remains better financed and better organized in other states?

“This was a good night for Rick Santorum. I want to congratulate Senator Santorum and wish him the very best. We’ll keep on campaigning down the road, but I expect to become our nominee with your help,” Romney told supporters in Denver.

Mr. Romney appeared in Denver before there were enough returns in Colorado to project a victor. And he appeared to stumble some as he began his remarks to a subdued crowd by saying, “I’m pretty confident we’ll come in No. 1 or No. 2,” and acknowledging “a good night for Senator Santorum.”

Still, he declared, “I expect to become our nominee with your help,” before starting an address that recalled Mr. Obama’s convention speech in Denver in 2008 and what he said were its many failed promises of a vastly improved economy.

Mr. Gingrich was not on the ballot in Missouri, helping to create Mr. Santorum’s opening; but he was competing in Minnesota, where the party is known for the religious conservatism of a former Republican candidate, Representative Michele Bachmann, reports The New York Times.

Speaking before the results in Ohio, where he was campaigning, Mr. Gingrich said the results should raise doubts about what has been portrayed as Mr. Romney’s inexorable march to the nomination.

“I think the big story coming out tonight is that it’s very hard for the elite media to portray Governor Romney as inevitable after tonight is over,” he said.

The outcome of the races in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday highlighted the peculiarities of the Republican nominating contest as it turns into a state-by-state delegate fight.

In Missouri, more than 200,000 voters cast ballots, yet no delegates were awarded. In Minnesota and Colorado, only a fraction of voters participated in the caucuses, but the contests were seen as more legitimate because delegates will be awarded this spring based on the voting.

The next major Republican nominating contests are the Arizona and Michigan primaries on February 28, while Maine wraps up its caucuses this Saturday.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday that has Romney ahead in the race nationally with 29 percent showed Santorum’s support has gained by 5 percentage points in the last month, to 18 percent.

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