photo: George Skidmore
Former U.S. senator Rick Santorum had the biggest night of his presidential candidacy thus far on Tuesday as he pulled off a trifecta in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.
In Missouri, which held a non-binding primary with no delegates at stake, Santorum placed a strong first with 55 percent of the vote, followed by Mitt Romney at 25 percent and Ron Paul at 12 percent. Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot in the Show-Me State.
Santorum was also victorious in the Minnesota caucuses, taking 45 percent of the vote. Paul was a distant second at 27 percent and Romney third at 17 percent. Gingrich was last at 10 percent.
Colorado may have been the biggest surprise of the night, since Romney looked primed for a repeat of his win there in 2008. However, Santorum completed his three-state sweep with a first place finish in that state’s caucuses, beating Romney 40-35 percent. Gingrich was third at 13 percent, with Paul coming in last at 12 percent.
“Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri — and Minnesota,” Santorum told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night, while his victory in Colorado was still unsure.
Santorum’s success comes after Romney built momentum with dominating wins in Florida and Nevada. Although Tuesday’s votes may have little impact on the delegate count for each Republican candidate, the media splash instantly gives Santorum an opening to position himself as the conservative alternative to Romney, potentially snatching that mantle from Gingrich.
For Romney, yesterday’s results slow down his pace as frontrunner and once again raise questions about a lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy among the GOP base.
“This was a good night for Rick Santorum. I want to congratulate Senator Santorum, wish him the very best, we’ll keep on campaigning down the road,” Romney told a group of supporters in Colorado Tuesday night. “But I expect to become our nominee with your help.”
It remains to be seen how Santorum will fare if Romney and Gingrich – along with their allied super PACs – train their fire on the suddenly resurgent former senator.
The key for Santorum will be converting his momentum from last night into a surge of fundraising and on-the-ground organizing as key primaries approach on Feb. 28 in Arizona and Ohio. His staying power and national reach could also be severely tested by the crucial Mar. 6 Super Tuesday, when 10 states hold their primaries or caucuses, a day that could prove decisive in the Republican nomination fight.