Jubilant Santorum Wins Minnesota, Nonbinding Missouri

By: David Espo and Philip Elliott, Associated Press
By: David Espo and Philip Elliott, Associated Press

Jubilant Santorum Wins Minnesota, Nonbinding Missouri

Washington, D.C. (AP) - A resurgent Rick Santorum won Minnesota's Republican caucuses with ease Tuesday night, relegating GOP front-runner Mitt Romney to a distant third-place finish that raised fresh questions about his ability to attract ardent conservatives at the core of the party's political base.

Santorum was victorious, as well, in a nonbinding Missouri primary that was worth bragging rights but no delegates, and he led in early returns from Colorado's caucuses.

"Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota," the jubilant former Pennsylvania senator told cheering supporters in St. Charles, Mo. Challenging his GOP rival and the Democratic president, he declared that on issues ranging from health care to "Wall Street bailouts, Mitt Romney has the same positions as Barack Obama."

Returns from 58 percent of Minnesota's precincts showed Santorum with 45 percent support, Texas Rep. Paul with 27 percent and Romney - who won the state in his first try for the nomination four years ago - with 17 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailed with 11 percent.

Romney prevailed in both Minnesota and Colorado in 2008, the first time he ran for the nomination, but the GOP has become more conservative in both states since then under the influence of tea party activists.

In Colorado, with returns counted from 16 percent of the precincts, Santorum had 48 percent support with Romney at 22 percent, Gingrich at 17 and Paul trailing with 12 percent.

If the night was good for Santorum, it was grim for Gingrich, who made scant effort in either state. He ran far off the pace in both caucus states, forced to watch from the sidelines while Santorum boasted of being the candidate with conservative appeal.

There were 37 Republican National Convention delegates at stake in Minnesota and 33 more in Colorado, and together, they accounted for the largest one-day combined total so far in the race for the GOP nomination.

The victories were the first for Santorum since he eked out a 34-vote win in the lead-off Iowa caucuses a month ago, and he reveled in the moment. "I don't stand here to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama," he told his supporters.

He had faded far from the lead in the primaries and caucuses since, and Gingrich seemed to eclipse him as the leading conservative rival to Romney when he won the South Carolina primary late last month.

While Romney throttled back after victories in Florida and Nevada in the past several days, Santorum campaigned aggressively in all three states on the ballot, seeking a breakthrough to revitalize his campaign.

He won Minnesota largely the way he did Iowa, dispatching his organizers from the first state to the second and courting pastors and tea party leaders alike.

Romney's campaign moved swiftly to take the sting out of the Missouri vote. The state's Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, a Romney supporter, congratulated the winner but noted the state's delegates are still up for grabs. He said, "Mitt Romney has the organization and the resources to go the distance in this election, and I believe he'll ultimately win our party's nomination."

And it was not clear where Santorum could exploit his victory. Aides have already said he has little hope in Maine caucuses that end this weekend, the next event on the calendar.

Paul, a Texas lawmaker, has yet to win a primary or caucus. He claimed credit for a strong second-place finish in Minnesota and said he was optimistic about his chances in Maine.

Romney began the day the leader in the delegate chase, with 101 of the 1,144 needed to capture the nomination at the Republican National Convention this summer in Tampa. Gingrich had 32, Santorum 17 and Paul nine.

Though the delegate total on Tuesday was high, the campaigning was a pale comparison to the Iowa caucuses or primaries last month in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

Television advertising was sparse; neither Colorado nor Minnesota hosted a candidates' debate, and there was relatively little campaigning by the contenders themselves until the past few days.

The same was true in last weekend's Nevada caucuses, which Romney won on the heels of a Florida primary victory days earlier. The same pattern holds in Maine.

Not until primaries in Michigan and Arizona on Feb. 28 is the campaign likely to regain the intensity that characterized the first few weeks of the year.

Then it roars back to life with a 10-state Super Tuesday on March 6 with 416 convention delegates at stake. Georgia, where Gingrich launched his career in Congress, is the biggest prize that night with 76 delegates. Next is Ohio, which has 63 delegates at stake and where early voting has already begun.

Santorum, in particular, was eager to seize the relative lull to redeem the promise of his Iowa victory.

He campaigned more aggressively this week than any of the other contenders, and he spent Tuesday hopscotching from Colorado to Minnesota to Missouri in hopes of nailing down at least one victory. Touting himself as a true conservative - a slap at Gingrich - he sought to undermine Romney's electability claim at the same time by predicting the former Massachusetts governor would lose to Obama.

Romney responded by assailing Santorum as an advocate of congressional earmarks - shifting the criticism he had leveled at Gingrich when the Georgian seemed a more imposing threat.

In the hours before the caucuses convened, the front-runner sought to lower expectations.

"Mitt Romney is not going to win every contest," Rich Beeson, the campaign's political director, wrote in a memo for public consumption.

"John McCain lost 19 states in 2008, and we expect our opponents will notch a few wins, too," Beeson wrote. McCain, the Arizona senator, won the Republican nomination four years ago.

In fact, Colorado and Minnesota were among the states that McCain failed to win, and he lost them to Romney.

In the four years since, the GOP has become more conservative in both. That posed a challenge for Romney, who runs as the Republican most likely to defeat Obama and is still trying to establish his credentials among tea party activists suspicious of a one-time moderate who backed abortion rights.

Two years ago in Minnesota, establishment candidates for governor were swept aside in the primary, and tea party-backed insurgents for governor and the Senate in Colorado won the party nominations.

In all three cases, Democrats won in the general election that fall.

Gingrich spent the day campaigning in Ohio, one of the primary states on March 6.

His campaign went into a downward spiral after he won the South Carolina primary in an upset. The former speaker was routed in the Florida primary to Romney, then finished a distant second in Nevada over the weekend.

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Elliott reported from St. Charles, Mo.

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Santorum Wins Missouri GOP Presidential Primary

Jefferson City, MO (AP) - Rick Santorum has won the Missouri Republican primary, a nonbinding election that carries bragging rights but does not award any delegates in the race for the presidential nomination.

Missouri will pick its delegates at caucuses next month.

The real contests Tuesday night were in GOP caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado.

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  • by Anonymous on Feb 8, 2012 at 04:08 PM
    A person with convictions will vote for the best man and if he is the best man he will beat Obama. Shameful that so many people are wishy washy and vote for the candidate that they think can beat Obama when in truth there is very little difference between the two other than one has a (D) after his name and the other one an (R).
  • by Tom Location: Tallahassee on Feb 8, 2012 at 03:18 PM
    Sanitorium is the worst possible candidate for president. He even makes Gingrich look a little less horrible than he is. Sanitorium thinks god takes care of everything and has little or no connection with reality. On the other hand, he would be much easier for Obama to beat than Romney. So....not so bad perhaps.
  • by Rick? Really? Location: Quincy, FL on Feb 8, 2012 at 10:54 AM
    You Santorum backers are such sheep. Just keep flocking to whoever Rush or Sean Hannity tell you to go to. You realize you're backing a guy who voted to raise the debt ceiling 5 times (and got voted out for it), opposed right-to-work, backed Arlen Specter in 2004, backed Romney in 2008, and hasn't held any kind of office in 6 years. Look it up. Quit flocking to someone because a radio show host tells you he's conservative. Just because he hates gays and Muslims you think he's conservative. You all are an embarrassment to our party.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Feb 8, 2012 at 12:02 PM in reply to Rick? Really?
      santorum gingrich romney obama pelosi......which one doesn't belong here....pelosi because she is female but the politics are the same
    • reply
      by Gman on Feb 8, 2012 at 12:34 PM in reply to Rick? Really?
      Let me guess who you voted for?? LOL Maybe the guy who is "no different from Obama?"
  • by Sha Location: LO on Feb 8, 2012 at 07:05 AM
    Santorum got my vote in FLORIDA...hope he continues to win.
  • by RepGirl Location: Crawfordville on Feb 8, 2012 at 06:59 AM
    Santorum got my vote too but sadly a lot of people will vote with the majority instead of the best candidate. It's too bad. He really is the best person for the job.
  • by roger on Feb 8, 2012 at 05:45 AM
    He got my Florida vote.
  • by Ron Gets My Vote on Feb 8, 2012 at 05:42 AM
    I feel Ron Paul is the only candidate that understands and respects the Constitution and the limited power of the President. He has a rock steady voting past and high moral standards. Ron Paul understands how our CIA and other organizations have been meddling in countries we have no business in. Over throwing Regimes and forcing the will of the big banks and big business on other countries. An Idea whos time has come.
  • by Georgia Boy Location: Cairo on Feb 8, 2012 at 05:03 AM
    Yep, if he keeps coming I'll vote for him in the Georgia primary.
    • reply
      by Jack on Feb 8, 2012 at 05:27 AM in reply to Georgia Boy
      Go for it! But Newt will take Georgia..
  • by Abel on Feb 8, 2012 at 04:08 AM
    Santorum,Bachman a winning ticket!
  • by Anonymous on Feb 8, 2012 at 03:57 AM
    Ron Paul for peace. Ron Paul for balanced budget
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Feb 8, 2012 at 05:27 AM in reply to
      Ron Paul belongs is a straight jacket..
      • reply
        by Crazy like a fox on Feb 8, 2012 at 08:09 AM in reply to
        Ron Paul predicted the housing crisis exactly as it unfolded. Ron Paul predicted the cost of the Iraqi war, the length and blow back caused by the war. Ron Paul predicted interest rates, oil prices and gold prices years ago exactly as it happened. Goto Youtube and watch for yourself. Not too crazy when you are always right, maybe you are crazy for listening to people who are always wrong.
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