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Santorum wins Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, shakes up GOP race


This news story was published on February 8, 2012.
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By David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers –

WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum seized an important opportunity Tuesday to become the chief conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, as he made a clean sweep of three Republican presidential nomination contests in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota.

(PHOTO: Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum at a campaign event in Blaine, Minnesota, on Tuesday, February 7, 2012, amid Minnesota’s Republican caucuses.)

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, was expected to remain the front-runner for the GOP nomination nevertheless, thanks to his huge advantages in campaign cash and organization going forward, and his impressive earlier wins in New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada.

Still, the strong Santorum vote provided fresh evidence that “Romney’s is a troubled candidacy,” said Lawrence Jacobs, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. “The outcome of the race is far from certain.”

The surprising showing by Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania senator, made it clear that Romney isn’t yet his party’s consensus nominee. It signaled that the GOP nomination campaign may remain a bitter struggle for months, possibly leading to a divided August convention and a weakened candidate against President Barack Obama in the fall.

Santorum’s most stunning victory came in Colorado, where he was proclaimed the winner with 38 percent of the vote to Romney’s 36 percent, with 96 percent of precincts reporting. Romney had been heavily favored in the state, whose 2008 caucuses he won with 60 percent of the vote, and he campaigned hard there in recent days.

Former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich took 13 percent in Colorado, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul 12 percent.

In Minnesota’s caucuses, with 83 percent of precincts reporting, Santorum had 45 percent, Paul had 27 percent, Romney trailed with 17 percent and Gingrich had 11 percent. Romney won the Minnesota GOP caucuses in 2008.

In Missouri, a crucial swing state in the November elections, Santorum was headed for a landslide. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, he had 55 percent to Romney’s 25 percent. Paul had 12 percent. Gingrich was not on the ballot; 4 percent were uncommitted.

The Missouri vote was a non-binding “beauty contest,” since no delegates were at stake and candidates made little effort to campaign there. But Santorum’s victory gave his campaign renewed momentum.

Santorum, speaking to supporters in St. Charles, Mo., presented himself as his party’s best contrast to Obama.

“I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” he said. “I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”

Paul, whose strategy centers on caucus states, said he was pleased with his second-place showing in Minnesota. “Our views are not only being accepted, they’re being sought after,” he told backers in Golden Valley, Minn.

Romney addressed supporters in Denver as Colorado results trickled in. “This was a good night for Rick Santorum,” he said, but added, “I expect to become the nominee with your help.’

No delegates were chosen Tuesday. Caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota began a process that will lead to delegate selection there in April and May. Missouri’s primary is a “beauty contest” only; its 52 delegates will be chosen in state and local conventions later this spring. Tuesday’s contests were about influencing public opinion and building momentum.

Turnout in the three states appeared to be low; only about 60,000 voters turned out for Minnesota’s caucuses in a state that now has about 3 million registered voters. About half the voters in Missouri and Minnesota were expected to be Republicans who consider themselves conservative Christians.

Romney hoped to sustain the momentum he’d gained with big wins in Florida and Nevada over the past week. But many conservatives remain uncomfortable with him. A Pew Research Center survey in late January found that 52 percent of Republicans rated the GOP presidential candidate field fair or poor.

Should conservatives rally around Santorum — or take fresh looks at Gingrich or Paul — no candidate is likely to amass the 1,144 delegates needed for the GOP nomination quickly.

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