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Santorum beats Romney in Minn., Mo.

A resurgent Rick Santorum won Minnesota's Republican presidential caucuses with ease Tuesday and reached for victory in Colorado, raising fresh questions about front-runner Mitt Romney's appeal among the ardent conservatives at the core of the party's political base.

Santorum also triumphed in a nonbinding Missouri primary that was worth bragging rights but no delegates. He was the only GOP candidate to campaign for the state's primary.

"Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota," the jubilant former Pennsylvania senator told cheering supporters in St. Charles, Mo.

Returns from 74 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 Minnesota and Colorado in 2008, 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 32 percent of the precincts, Santorum had 43 percent support, Romney 28 percent, Gingrich 15 percent and Paul 13 percent.

Romney showed no sign of disappointment in remarks to supporters. "This was a good night for Rick Santorum. I want to congratulate Sen. Santorum, but I expect to become the nominee with your help," he told supporters in Denver.

If the night was good for Santorum, it was grim for Gingrich, who made scant effort in any of the three states that voted.

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 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.

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.

Santorum beats Romney in Minn., Mo. 02/07/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 12:13am]

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