Santorum seeks to capitalize on wins

Rick Santorum’s stunning victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado are marking his best performance in the rollicking contest for the Republican presidential nomination — and Mitt Romney’s worst. The losses by the better-funded and organized Romney were stinging reminders of his inability to appeal to the growing conservative movement at the base of the party.

WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum’s stunning victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado are marking his best performance in the rollicking contest for the Republican presidential nomination — and Mitt Romney’s worst. The losses by the better-funded and organized Romney were stinging reminders of his inability to appeal to the growing conservative movement at the base of the party.

It was far from clear whether Santorum, who remains a long-shot candidate, would be able to turn the momentum from Tuesday’s wins into the millions of dollars he would need to overtake the very wealthy Romney in the race to challenge President Barack Obama in November.

But Santorum said Wednesday his campaign raised a quarter of a million dollars online Tuesday night.

“If money made the difference, we would not have won four primaries so far,” he told CNN.

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, has hammered Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, as being too moderate to satisfy deeply conservative Republicans and their desire to stop Obama from a second term.

The conservative voters distrust Romney’s thinking on sensitive issues such as abortion and gay rights after he once held more moderate views.

Tuesday’s developments shifted the Republican political narrative just as some conservatives had begun to embrace Romney in the first step toward what many in the party hoped would be a swift end to the nomination fight.

Now the contest threatens to rumble past March 6, when 10 states vote in what is called Super Tuesday.

Santorum’s wins also pushed former front-runner Newt Gingrich, a former House of Representatives speaker, further out of the spotlight with a reminder that the campaign remains more than a two-man race.

Gingrich is hoping that Super Tuesday, which includes states from his Southern base, will bring him back next month.

Santorum told CNN he thinks conservative Republicans “are beginning to get” that he represents the party’s best chance to oust Obama.

He said Romney, a former venture capitalist, “had a great career in the private sector, but we’re not running for CEO of the country. We’re running for someone who can lead the country.”

Romney shrugged off his poor showing after his back-to-back victories last week in Florida and Nevada.

“I want to congratulate Sen. Santorum, but I expect to become the nominee with your help,” Romney told supporters Tuesday.

When Romney ran for the Republican nomination four years ago, he prevailed in Minnesota and Colorado.

The Republican Party has become more conservative in both states since then.

The victories were the first for Santorum since he eked out a 34-vote win over Romney in the leadoff Iowa caucuses a month ago.

Santorum faded far from the lead after that, and Gingrich seemed to eclipse him as the leading conservative rival to Romney when he won the South Carolina primary late last month.

Gingrich stayed out of sight as the results rolled in Tuesday night.

Libertarian-leaning Texas congressman Ron Paul, meanwhile, reveled in his second-place win in Minnesota and vowed to keep collecting delegates to take to the Republican Party national convention in August.

There were 37 Republican National Convention delegates at stake in Minnesota and 33 more in Colorado. Santorum’s victories in Minnesota and Colorado gave him at least 28 delegates, pushing him past Gingrich into second place in the delegate count. Romney scored at least six delegates.

The Missouri primary was nonbinding with no delegates at stake, Missouri’s delegates to the party’s national nominating convention will be chosen in caucuses beginning next month.

Overall, Romney has 107 delegates. Santorum has 69, Gingrich has 32 and Paul has nine.

The nominee needs to amass at least 1,144 delegates.

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