Rick Santorum Wins Minnesota’s Republican Caucuses

Rick Santorum has been declared the winner of Missouri and Minnesota's Republican presidential nominating contests, thrashing Mitt Romney.

Santorum Declared Winner in Missouri and Minnesota Votes

Rick Santorum has been declared the winner of Missouri and Minnesota's Republican presidential nominating contests, thrashing Mitt Romney.

Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gives a thumbs up before speaking during a primary night watch party Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012, in St. Charles, Mo.

Mr Santorum, a social conservative, was even leading in Colorado, according to partial results.

Defeat in Colorado for Mr Romney would be a huge upset, as he was expected to win easily on the eve of the vote.

The eventual Republican nominee will go on to face Democratic President Barack Obama in November's election.

Newt Gingrich, still Mr Romney's main challenger, hardly campaigned in the three states that voted on Tuesday, and did not even appear on Missouri's ballot.

Distrust of Romney

In Missouri, with 81% of the vote counted, Mr Santorum was in the lead with almost 55%, well ahead of former Massachusetts Governor Romney at 25%, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 12%.

In Minnesota, with 38% of the vote counted, Mr Santorum was on almost 46%, while Mr Paul was on nearly 26% and Mr Romney third on just over 16%.

In Colorado, with 8% of votes counted, Mr Santorum was ahead with 50% of the vote.

Mr Romney, who was forecast by opinion polls to win Colorado, is currently in third place behind Newt Gingrich with 19% of the vote.

Mr Santorum performed well in opinion polls ahead of the vote in Minnesota and Missouri - states with significant blocs of Tea Party and evangelical Christian voters respectively.

Pitching himself as the only true conservative in the presidential race, Mr Santorum made a last-minute flurry of campaign appearances on Tuesday.

The former Pennsylvania senator, who has not won a contest since grinding out a narrow win in Iowa's caucuses back in January, has been viewed as a long-shot candidate.

Mr Romney campaigned hard on abortion, religious freedom and gay marriage in an intensified effort to win over social conservatives ahead of Minnesota and Colorado's caucuses.

During his first run for the Republican presidential nomination back in 2008, Mr Romney was victorious in both Colorado and Minnesota.

But both states are perceived to have moved to the right since then, so doubts over his Mormon faith and political record as governor of a liberal state may have cost him votes.

Playing down the significance ahead of Tuesday's votes, Romney campaign political director Rich Beeson said: "Mitt Romney is not going to win every contest. John McCain [the 2008 Republican nominee] lost 19 states in 2008, and we expect our opponents will notch a few wins, too."

In Minnesota, 37 delegates are at stake with 33 up for grabs in Colorado. The primary in Missouri is being dubbed a "beauty contest" since it will actually allocate its delegates next month.

Mr Gingrich campaigned on Tuesday in Ohio, one of 10 states that will vote on Super Tuesday early next month.

Correspondents say the former House of Representatives Speaker's game plan is to ride out February and hang on until March when Southern states where he stands a better chance of success come into play.

Before Tuesday's votes, Mr Romney had 101 of the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at the Republican Party convention in August, according to an Associated Press news agency tally.

In second place, Mr Gingrich was on 32 delegates, Mr Santorum 17 and Mr Paul nine.

Mr Romney has racked up the most victories in this year's election race, with resounding wins in New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada.