Rick Santorum triumphant as election takes another unpredictable swing (+video)
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Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the nomination, finished a disappointing third place in Minnesota, behind Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and second in Missouri. Colorado, which Mr. Romney had expected to win fairly easily, was still too close to call late Tuesday night, and a Santorum win was a possibility.
Newt Gingrich, who had downplayed expectations going into Tuesday, had an even worse night, coming in last in Minnesota and likely a distant third place in Colorado. He was not on the ballot in Missouri.
Congressman Paul, who had hoped for a big boost from caucus states, notched a second-place finish in Minnesota, but was third in Missouri and performing poorly in Colorado.
Mr. Santorum's wins were, in some sense, symbolic. Missouri's primary was largely a "beauty contest," since the delegates will be chosen in caucuses in March. Minnesota's and Colorado's caucuses are also nonbinding, although there are actual delegates at stake and the results should help determine the selection of those delegates.
But they are still an important boost to his campaign at a pivotal moment, and seemed destined to prolong the nominating contest and keep Romney from sewing up the nomination quickly, at the least.
"Your votes today were not just heard loud and wide across the states of Missouri and Minnesota, but they were heard loud and louder all across this country, and ... I suspect maybe in Massachusetts they were heard particularly loud tonight," said Santorum in a victory speech in St. Charles, Mo., in which he took aim at both President Obama and Romney – whom he attempted to cast as similar in their stances on health care, the environment, and Wall Street bailouts.
Santorum thanked the conservatives who gave him his win, noting that "tonight was a victory for the voices of our party, conservatives and tea party people," and tried to take on the mantle of nominee, saying, "I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to mitt Romney, I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."