GOP Race Thrown Wide Open As Santorum Wins In Three States - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

GOP Race Thrown Wide Open As Santorum Wins In Three States

MSNBC.COM - Rick Santorum swept three nominating contests held Tuesday, upsetting frontrunner Mitt Romney and injecting new energy into the former Pennsylvania senator's campaign.

Santorum scored broad victories in the Minnesota caucus and a primary in Missouri, according to NBC News projections. But Santorum's most significant upset came in Colorado, where the state GOP declared him the apparent victor in caucuses there.

Romney made his hardest push of the three states in Colorado, having campaigned there and spent money on advertising. Santorum's upset raises fresh doubts about the breadth of Romney's appeal to Republicans, and abates some of the momentum Romney had built from consecutive victories in the Florida primary and Nevada caucus.

"I don't stand here to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney; I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama," Santorum told a raucous crowd in Missouri.

Still, the former Pennsylvania senator drew contrasts with Romney throughout his remarks, saying Romney "has the same positions as Barack Obama" on a number of issues close to conservatives. Santorum also made a disapproving nod toward Romney's gaffe last week in which the former Massachusetts governor said his campaign was "not concerned about the very poor."

"I care about the very rich and the very poor," Santorum told supporters. "I care about 100 percent of America."

The Romney campaign had begun to downplay expectations for its finish in Missouri and Minnesota, though the Colorado finish seemed more genuinely surprising to Romney. Throughout the campaign, Romney, the tentative frontrunner, has been dogged by questions about his ability to close the deal with Republicans — questions that will be furthered by Tuesday night's returns.

Romney conceded in remarks just before midnight in the East Coast that "this was a good night for Rick Santorum."

Santorum had campaigned last week in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado — while Romney, Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul campaigned in Nevada. Since Saturday's Nevada caucuses, Romney has basically campaigned only in Colorado.

While NBC News will not project allotments of delegates based off the results, Santorum's sweep provides a new springboard for his campaign heading into a crucial stretch for the campaign.

The former Massachusetts governor had been seen as a marginal favorite in the contests simply because of his organizational strength. Romney had also won the 2008 Minnesota caucus. This cycle, he fell to third, behind Santorum and Paul.

The winner of Jan. 3's Iowa caucuses by a razor-thin margin, Santorum had focused on winning over the same brew of social conservatives and Republicans not ready to settle for Romney during his campaign efforts.

"Tonight's victory should put to bed the idea that the Republican nomination for Mitt Romney is inevitable," said Stuart Roy, an adviser to the pro-Santorum super PAC, the Red, White and Blue Fund.

The victories, however, are somewhat informal. Missouri will host a separate caucus next month to allocate its delegates, and the Minnesota and Colorado caucus results are non-binding. click here to read more

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