Rick Santorum seized an important opportunity Tuesday to become the chief conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, as he made a clean sweep of three Republican presidential nomination contests in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, was expected to remain the front-runner for the GOP nomination nevertheless, thanks to his huge advantages in campaign cash and organization going forward, and his impressive earlier wins in New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada.
Still, the strong Santorum vote provided fresh evidence that "Romney's is a troubled candidacy," said Lawrence Jacobs, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. "The outcome of the race is far from certain."
Santorum's most stunning victory came in Colorado, where he was proclaimed the winner with 38 percent of the vote to Romney's 36 percent, with 96 percent of precincts reporting. Romney had been heavily favored in the state, whose 2008 caucuses he won with 60 percent of the vote, and he campaigned hard there in recent days.
Former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich took 13 percent in Colorado, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul 12 percent.
In Minnesota's caucuses, with 83 percent of precincts reporting, Santorum had 45 percent, Paul had 27 percent, Romney trailed with 17 percent and Gingrich had 11 percent. Romney won the Minnesota GOP caucuses in 2008.
In Missouri, a crucial swing state in the November elections, Santorum was headed for a landslide. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, he had 55 percent to Romney's 25 percent. Paul had 12 percent. Gingrich was not on the ballot; 4 percent were uncommitted.
And here I was thinking that Romney would walk away with the remainder of the GOP caucuses all sewn up and in the bag. Just because you're the GOP establishment's top pick for candidate doesn't mean the Teabaggers and "real" Americans that make up the voting populace have to tolerate that choice. Being a Mormon guy with a lead personality and a case of "out-of-touchitis" doesn't help, either.