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Santorum declared winner in Missouri, Minnesota

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Santorum declared winner in Missouri, Minnesota


By Philip Rucker and Nia-Malika Henderson, Updated: Tuesday, February 7, 10:16 PM


DENVER — Rick Santorum had a breakthrough night on Tuesday, winning presidential contests in Missouri and Minnesota and making a strong showing in Colorado, all of which is expected to breathe life into his struggling campaign and slow Mitt Romney’s march to the Republican presidential nomination.


Early returns had Santorum running well ahead of Romney in Minnesota and Missouri, and the Associated Press projected he would win both contests. The victories provide fresh momentum to the former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign and boost his fundraising going into the next big big contests a month away.


Santorum was leading in Colorado as well, but it was unclear whether he could maintain his position as more precincts reported vote totals.


Romney had hoped to extend his winning streak as he tries to strengthen his claim to the mantle of the presumptive nominee. But he was prepared for a loss in one or more states as Santorum made an aggressive run in all three contests Tuesday. In Minnesota, where Romney enjoyed strong establishment backing, early returns showed him trailing not just Santorum but also Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.).


“Conservatism is alive and well,” Santorum told supporters at his election night party in Missouri. “I don’t stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”


Paul, who has yet to secure a win in the 2012 sweepstakes, mobilized his loyal support networks in the three states and was banking on low turnout in the nonbinding contests to give him a win. But he finished a distant third in Missouri and was trailing in the other states as well.


Newt Gingrich did not compete in Missouri and spent limited time in Colorado and Minnesota. The former House speaker looked past Tuesday’s contests and instead campaigned in Ohio, one of several delegate-rich states voting March 6 on “Super Tuesday,” when he hopes to jump-start his struggling candidacy.


Together, the three states voting Tuesday will eventually award 128 delegates. But Missouri was a “beauty contest” with no delegates at stake, while Minnesota and Colorado were nonbinding events with delegates to be chosen this spring.


At stake Tuesday night was the prestige of winning. And Santorum, whose campaign has struggled since he narrowly won the Iowa caucuses, nailed down at least one upset to restore an air of viability to his candidacy.


By defeating Romney, Santorum believes, he could reset the race and help create the perception that he, and not Gingrich, is the conservative alternative to the establishment front-runner.


“I feel great that Minnesota is going to change the direction of this race tonight,” Santorum told supporters at a Tuesday afternoon rally in Blaine, Minn. “Governor Romney’s been able to bully his way through this primary .?.?. but he’s not inspiring. He’s not painting the vision.”


Recognizing the Santorum threat, Romney and his supporters attacked the former senator the past few days over his support for congressional earmarks.


Romney shifted his efforts in recent days to Colorado, where he has a deeper ground organization and won the 2008 caucuses with 60 percent of the vote.


Campaigning Tuesday morning at a massive RV showroom in Loveland, Colo., Romney said, “Colorado’s got something to say about who our nominee’s gonna be, and I think I’m gonna be that nominee.”


The Minnesota and Missouri contests were early barometers of Romney’s support in some of the key Midwestern states he would need to win in a general election against President Obama. And Colorado, considered a critical battleground in the fall general election, will test Romney’s strength in a swing state that Obama’s reelection advisers consider a must-win.


The candidates spent considerably less money and time in these three states than in the contests that preceded them in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada; now the race enters a February lull. After the Maine caucuses, which will end on Saturday, there are no primaries or caucuses until the Arizona and Michigan primaries on Feb. 28, two states that will generate intense engagement from all the candidates. Romney, in particular, is planning to compete aggressively in both.


Public polling in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri had been inconsistent, and Romney’s campaign advisers predicted that Tuesday’s turnout, particularly in Minnesota, would be small and overwhelmingly conservative, favoring Santorum.


Romney officials labored to preserve an aura of inevitability around his campaign, releasing a strategy memorandum Tuesday promoting the former Massachusetts governor’s financial and organizational advantage over the long haul.


“Mitt Romney is the only candidate with the organizational strength and broad-based appeal to secure delegates in all remaining primaries and caucuses,” national political director Rich Beeson wrote. “Of course, there is no way for any nominee to win first place in every single contest — John McCain lost 19 states in 2008, and we expect our opponents to notch a few wins too.”


Beeson dismissed Gingrich’s calculation of a rebound in Southern states holding March contests as “a flight of fancy and not grounded in reality.”


Gingrich, who has pledged to take his fight to the party’s convention in August, kept up his assault on Romney in a string of campaign stops Tuesday.


In Cincinnati, he linked Romney to Obama, saying a “Massachusetts moderate” could not debate the Democratic incumbent on a range of policies, including health care.


“I don’t think that a moderate can defeat Obama, because they don’t have enough space to debate,” Gingrich said at Price Hill Chili in Cincinnati. “I think if you look at Romneycare and Obamacare, they are too similar. If you look at his record as governor, they are too similar.”


After losing badly to Romney in the Florida primary and the Nevada caucuses, Gingrich and his aides turned their attention to the March contests, which include several Southern states where Gingrich could do well.


 


 


Henderson reported from Ohio.


© The Washington Post Company




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Go, Rick, go.  He was a senator in PA, where I live.  He is not very popular here. While Pennsylvania has some very conservative areas throughout the state (basically everywhere but Pittsburgh and Philly), he was too extreme for this electorate. Newt Gingrich has more potential as a viable contender than Santorum, but his organization is weak.