Rick Santorum is the projected winner in the Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri Republican contests, a surprising revival for a candidate whose campaign has flagged since winning Iowa in January.
"Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota," an exuberant Santorum told Missouri supporters in his victory speech.
Romney congratulated his rival in his own address in Colorado, calling it a "good night" for the candidate. But he mostly stuck to his usual stump speech from there, criticizing President Obama for his handling of the economy and casting the race as a battle to save "the soul of America."
While Missouri's circumstances are odd enough to allow Romney some leeway in spinning the results, Santorum's victories in Minnesota and Colorado are unambiguous setbacks for the nominal frontrunner. Romney won Colorado big in 2008, taking more than 60% of the vote, and won Minnesota with 41% of the vote the same year. Especially in Minnesota, Romney seemed poised for a repeat success: the state's last governor, Tim Pawlenty, is Romney's national campaign chair and has served as his most prominent surrogate since ending his own presidential run last August. But in 2012, his supporters apparently abandoned him en masse: in Minnesota he finished third with just 17% of the vote behind Ron Paul's 27% and Santorum's 45%. In Colorado, he took second with about 35% to Santorum's 40%. Gingrich finished with just under 13% and Paul with just under 12%.
Missouri occupied a strange place in the race -- because of a quirk in the scheduling, its primary doesn't actually count towards determining its delegates and turnout was reportedly low. In addition, Newt Gingrich was not on the ballot. Gingrich told CNN on Tuesday that he didn't take Missouri's results seriously and was turning his attention to states like Ohio next.
"This is entirely a beauty contest and has no effect at all," Gingrich said.
Colorado Republican Party chairman Ryan Call has told CNN that Rick Santorum will be the winner of the Colorado caucuses.
Call said that the party is finalizing the results, and will have them ready shortly.
This means that Santorum will sweep the three races tonight in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, seizing momentum as the insurgent alternative to Mitt Romney. Back in 2008, Romney won the caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado, when he had become the alternative to John McCain.
The Romney campaign has sent out a fundraising e-mail from his wife Ann Romney, titled "On the road again" — offering a contest in which a lucky donor could win a day with the candidate out on the trail.
We draw great motivation and energy from your support. Our day-to-day interactions with you at rallies, town halls, and other campaign events serve as a constant reminder of why Mitt is in this fight.
We wish we could spend more time with each and every one of you. And that's why we're inviting a supporter like you to spend a day on the road with Mitt.
One lucky supporter will get to join Mitt for a day as he makes stops on the campaign trail. And by donating $5, you will automatically be entered for the chance to be Mitt's special guest on the road - https://secure.mittromney.com/donate/day-on-the-road
Mitt Romney addressed supporters in Denver, on the night that he lost the Minnesota caucuses and Missouri's non-binding primary to Rick Santorum. The result is still pending in Colorado, with Santorum ahead in the very early returns — and Romney was not able to predict victory there, either.
Romney thanked all his supporters, including those who have gone out caucusing tonight in Colorado. "The race is too close to call in Colorado at this point, but I'm pretty confident we'll come in Number 1 or Number 2."
After further thanking his supporters in Colorado, as well as Missouri and Minnesota, he said: "This was a 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, but I expect to become our nominee with your help."
Apeearing on Fox News after his projected wins in the Minnesota Republican caucuses and the Missouri GOP primary vote, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) said that he thinks he can do well in the Midwest, where he has now won three states (tonight's two and the Iowa caucuses). He specifically mentioned Ohio and Michigan, industrial states like the one he represented in the Senate.
Santorum also took a swipe at former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the national GOP frontrunner of the moment. Santorum called him simply "dead wrong" on some of the issues, saying Romney was for big government.
Rep. Ron Paul, speaking after a second place finish in the Minnesota caucuses, said that the libertarian views of himself and his supporters weren't being pushed away. "The world has changed dramatically, and our views are not only being accepted, they're being sought after," he said.
As evidence, Paul noted a Reuters/Ipsos poll at the top of his speech, which showed him second nationally among Republicans, ahead of Minnesota caucuses winner former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA).
Rick Santorum argued that tonight's landslide win in the Missouri primary — which was largely overlooked by Mitt Romney, due to having no delegates at stake — was a better measure of a Republican candidate in the general election, due to the absence of a race in which a rival candidate was deluged with negative ads.
"Governor Romney's greatest attribute is, 'Well, I've got the most money and best organization,'" said Santorum. "Well, he is not gonna have the most money and best organization in the fall, is he? No, we're gonna have to have someone who has other attributes to commend himself to the people of America.
"Someone who can get up and make sharp contrasts with President Obama. Someone who can point to the failed record of this administration, and say that Barack Obama has to be replaced in the Oval Office."