Rick Santorum Has Huge Night, Sweeping Three Republican Contests : It's All Politics The former Pennsylvania senator came out ahead in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, dealing a sharp blow to GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney and potentially changing the momentum of the Republican presidential primary race.

Rick Santorum Has Huge Night, Sweeping Three Republican Contests

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks to supporters on Tuesday at the St. Charles Convention Center in St. Charles, Mo. Whitney Curtis/Getty Images hide caption

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Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks to supporters on Tuesday at the St. Charles Convention Center in St. Charles, Mo.

Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

Even if no delegates were assigned, there is no doubt the night belonged to Rick Santorum, who went three-for-three in Tuesday's Republican contests. With commanding leads in Minnesota and Missouri, the Associated Press called the races in his favor. And in Colorado, where the vote tally vacillated between Santorum and Mitt Romney throughout the night, Colorado GOP Chair Ryan Call said on CNN that the party was calling the race in favor of Santorum.

Before the results from Colorado were clear, the former Pennsylvania senator took to the stage at his St. Charles, Mo., headquarters and delivered a rousing speech in which he positioned himself as the candidate with clearest contrast to President Obama.

Santorum also tried to tie Romney to Obama, saying the GOP front-runner espoused the same positions as the president on issues like health care and the environment.

"I don't stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," he said. "I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."

Santorum went on to deliver a speech filled with soaring rhetoric and hot on the Tea Party ideas of less government, the Constitution and individual liberties.

"This election is fundamentally about the kind of country you hand off to your children," he said. "Freedom is at stake in this election. We need to be the vote for freedom."

Romney delivered a more subdued speech, saying he congratulated Santorum but also stating that he believed that when the primary was over he was going to be the Republican presidential candidate.

We live blogged the night. So keep reading if you want to see how it played out.

Update at 1:22 a.m. ET. 'A Major Upset':

Even with all the caveats we had about this night — no delegates are assigned, Missouri is just a "beauty contest," Romney has the money and organization to play it big in the lead up to Super Tuesday — it's hard not to think that it will change the momentum of the Republican presidential primary race.

And the early reactions seem to bear that out:

In The Denver Post, a Denver-based political analyst calls Santorum's victory in Colorado "a major upset" that's going to create a "new story now."

And the AP says that Santorum has "delivered a stinging blow" to Romney.

The Washington Post says that with Tuesday's "breakthroughs," Santorum is again a viable candidate and his wins "slow Mitt Romney's march to the Republican nomination."

Politico says that Santorum's sweep raises "new questions about conservatives' willingness to accept Romney as their nominee."

And The National Review puts it bluntly: Mitt Romney should be concerned. John Fund writes:

"Mitt Romney's campaign will have lots of explanations for their man's poor showing tonight. Yes, Colorado and Minnesota were caucus states — the turnout is skewed in such contests toward a more conservative electorate. Yes, Missouri's primary was a 'beauty contest' and didn't award any delegates.

"But what Romney won't be able to explain away is just how much more poorly he did tonight in those three states than in his 2008 showing — when he lost the GOP nomination for president."

We'll leave you with that tonight. But we'll have much more on this unexpected and dramatic night in the morning. Thanks for joining us.

Update at 1:02 a.m. ET. With 98 Percent Of Votes Counted, Santorum In The Lead:

In an interview with CNN, Colorado GOP Chair Ryan Call said they were ready to call the contest in favor of Rick Santorum.

Call said with 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Romney had 37 percent of the vote and Santorum had "over 40 percent." He said the outstanding precincts will not have any effect on the outcome.

CNN also reported that according to their count, Romney had 34.9 percent of the vote and Santorum had 40.2 percent.

Update at 12:44 a.m. ET. Romney Now Leads In Colorado:

By CNN's count Romney now leads Santorum by one percentage point. But The New York Times statistics guru Nate Silver says the remaining counties do not look good for Romney:

"... The balance of the precincts yet to report in Colorado look slightly unfavorable to Mr. Romney. CNN's total does not include Colorado Springs, where Mr. Romney lost badly based on an account from the Denver Post. Meanwhile, most of the vote from Denver and its suburbs is accounted for."

Update at 12:31 a.m. ET. A Vote Against The Establishment:

In its first pass at the story, The Denver Post says that tonight changes the momentum of the Republican race and, according to one political scientist they spoke to, the forces at play tonight are the same ones that upset the establishment in 2010.

"This harkens back to 2010, when the Tea Party essentially upset the established Republican candidates for the Colorado governor and Senate races, and it clearly demonstrates that the grass roots of the party remains very conservative and is unwilling to unite behind the presumptive front-runner," Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based political analyst, told the Post.

Update at 12:28 a.m. ET. A Dead Heat:

With Boulder starting to report, Romney and Santorum are now in a dead heat in Colorado. The latest numbers:

-- Santorum: 36.8 percent

-- Romney: 31.4 percent

Update at 12:21 a.m. ET. In Colorado, Awaiting Urban Precincts:

John King on CNN says that what will determine the race will be the urban precincts, meaning Denver and Boulder. Those precincts have yet to report, but you can see a county-by-county breakdown of the votes here.

Update at 12:16 a.m. ET. 'Romney's Shellacking':

Henry Olson at the National Review looked at numbers at around 11 p.m. ET and found that Romney was "not leading in a single county in any state."

So what does that mean?

"It means the GOP base really does not want Romney, at least yet. Caucuses are traditionally dominated by a party's base. Four years ago, when Romney was the favorite of non-Southern very conservative voters, he swept to victory in caucus states outside Iowa. Today, when he is the favorite of moderates, it appears his enormous edge in organization is not paying off."

Update at 12:11 a.m. ET. Santorum Keeps Lead In Colorado:

A quick check on the numbers in Colorado with 32 percent of the precincts reporting:

-- Santorum: 42.9 percent

-- Romney: 28.5 percent

-- Gingrich: 15.3 percent

Update at 11:37 p.m. ET. Colorado 'Too Close To Call':

At his headquarters in Denver, Colo., Mitt Romney congratulated Rick Santorum. He said Colorado was still "too close to call" and that he was confident they would end the night either in first or second place in Colorado.

Quickly Romney turned his attention from Santorum to President Obama. Romney used the speech Obama gave in Denver to accept the Democratic nomination in 2008, to attack the president.

Romney said in 2008, Obama said he would measure success by how many people could find a job to pay a mortgage.

"Under his own definition, President Obama has failed. We will succeed," Romney said.

Update at 11:11 p.m. ET. Ron Paul Will Continue:

In his speech from Golden Valley, Minn., Texas Rep. Ron Paul vowed to continue his presidential campaign. Paul came in second in Minnesota and third in Missouri.

Paul argued that his campaign is playing long ball, adding up delegates little by little. But he also said that this campaign has acheived something significant.

"Our views are not only being accepted, they're being sought out," he said.

Then he went on to talk about his platform: A return to the gold standard, the curbing of entitlement programs, and the overhaul of "the foreign policy that gives us these perpetual wars."

Update at 10:54 p.m. ET. 'The Conservative Alternative To Barack Obama':

In his victory speech, the former Pennsylvania senator shifted his focus from the Republican field to President Obama.

Saying that Obama is a president who is not listening, Santorum said, "[Obama] thinks he knows better. He thinks he's smarter than you."

Santorum said that when it came to healthcare, the environment and the Wall Street bailouts, Obama and his elite friends think they know better.

And on those things, "Romney has the same positions as Obama."

"I don't stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," he said. "I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."

Santorum went on to deliver a speech filled with soaring rhetoric and hot on the Tea Party ideas of less government, the Constitution and individual liberties.

"This election is fundamentally about the kind of country you hand off to your children," he said. "Freedom is at stake in this election. We need to be the vote for freedom."

Update at 10:45 p.m. ET. Santorum Speaks:

Santorum came on stage at his St. Charles, Missouri headquarters and he came out looking absolutely ecstatic.

"Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota," he said to huge applause to start his speech.

Update at 10:31 p.m. ET. Hearts Or Minds In Minnesota:

Minnesota Public Radio has been talking to caucus goers in the state and it seems what we've seen throughout these primaries is also true tonight. As the Washington Post put it in a story Jan. 23, the contest is a fight for Republican hearts or minds.

The Minnesota voters MPR talked to said the same thing: The pragmatists supported Romney because they said he's most likely to beat President Obama. While others said they supported Santorum because he held their same values.

Update at 10:32 p.m. ET. CNN, NBC, AP Project Santorum Takes Minnesota:

The night is getting bigger for Rick Santorum: CNN, NBC News and The Associated Press are projecting that Santorum has won Minnesota. The call was made based on counts of actual votes. At this moment, with 28 percent of the votes counted, Santorum holds an 18 point lead over Ron Paul and a 28 point lead over Romney.

Update at 10:22 p.m. ET. Romney Chances In A One-On-One Match:

The SuperPAC that supports Rick Santorum just issued this statement:

"'Tonight's victory should put to bed the idea that the Republican nomination for Mitt Romney is inevitable,' said Stuart Roy, a RWB Fund advisor. 'When Republicans are given the choice between a principled conservative and a calculated convert to conservatism, principles win big.'"

Just as important is that they point out that in Missouri Romney ran against Santorum one-on-one, because Gingrich was not on the ballot. That they said proves that Santorum can beat Romney in a head-to-head battle.

Former Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer made the same point on CNN, earlier. Essentially, he said, Romney takes the GOP nomination if he can keep Santorum and Gingrich in the race.

Update at 10:09 p.m. ET. Early Returns In Colo. Put Santorum In The Lead:

With 7 percent of precincts reporting here are the numbers from Colorado:

-- Santorum: 49.6 percent

-- Gingrich: 21.4 percent

-- Romney: 18.9 percent

Update at 9:58 p.m. ET. Chances Of A Santorum Sweep?

The New York Times' statistics guru Nate Silver is posing what is the likely to be the night's most intriguing question, "Can Santorum sweep all three contests tonight?"

And before we move on, it's important to keep in mind two things: delegates will not be assigned tonight and it's very early in the night. With that, Silver says that while it is "too soon for Romney to panic in Colorado," Santorum's performance in Missouri and Minnesota is reason for concern.

"Based on the results we have so far," explains Silver, "it appears as though Mr. Santorum could beat his polling by a decent margin in both Minnesota and Missouri. Polling errors are often strongly correlated when states vote on the same night, and if Mr. Santorum did the same thing in Colorado - where he trailed Mr. Romney by 10 points in the Public Policy Polling survey there - he could go three-for-three tonight."

Update at 9:48 p.m. ET. 'A Symbolic Win':

CNN's political analyst David Gergen says that this Santorum win means that Romney has lost two of the last three midwestern states, which is "not a good position for a Republican candidate."

Gloria Gorger said that in the "very least, this is an embarrassment for Romney." While, this is a symbolic win in Missouri said Gorger, it "interrupts Romney's march" toward the nomination, which is what Santorum wanted to do.

Update at 9:44 p.m. ET. CNN, AP Project Santorum Wins Missouri:

CNN and the AP are projecting that Rick Santorum has won Missouri. The two have made the call with 41 percent of the precincts reporting and with Santorum holding a huge 29 point lead. Note that this call was made without the benefit of entrance and exit polls.

Update at 9:27 p.m. ET. Santorum Leads In Minnesota:

In early returns in Minnesota, Santorum has taken the lead with 46 percent of the vote. Ron Paul is in second place with 24 percent of the vote. Romney is in third with 17.6 percent.

Update at 9:21 p.m. ET. Turnout Mixed In Colorado:

In its first pass at the night, The Denver Post reports that some precinct are reporting an anemic turnout, while others are bursting at the seams.

Other signs, however, point to a big turnout in Colorado. The Post reports:

"More than 45,000 Republicans pre-registered to participate in tonight's caucuses and another 22,000 went online to find their caucus location, said Chuck Poplstein, executive director of the Colorado Republican Committee. About 3,000 people have signed up to volunteer.

"That could put the party on track to exceed 2008, when about 70,000 people participated."

Update at 9:16 p.m. ET. Santorum Takes The Lead In Mo.:

With 10 percent of the precincts reporting, Santorum has taken the lead in Missouri. The count:

-- Santorum: 49.7 percent.

-- Romney: 28.1 percent

-- Paul: 11.7 percent

-- Uncommitted: 6 percent

Update at 9:11 p.m. ET. Counting Begins In Colorado:

The caucuses in Colorado began at 9 p.m. ET. And CNN is showing pictures from a caucus in Castle Rock, where Republican voters have begun to talk about each candidate and in some cases have made their decisions. CNN showed images of caucus leaders counting votes.

Update at 9:05 p.m. ET. Ron Paul Signs Dollar Bills:

After Ron Paul finished addressing the caucus crowd in Maple Grove, Minn., Patrick Kessler, a political reporter for Minneapolis' WCCO, says Paul signed dollar bills. Kessler, clearly referencing Paul's impassioned plea for a return to the gold standard, tweets:

"Ron Paul signed dollar bills for supporters at Coon Rapids, MN caucus. Does that make them worth more, or less?"

Update at 8:53 p.m. ET. Making A Point At The Minn. Caucuses:

Our friends at Minnesota Public Radio are blogging the caucuses in their state. The early impression, reports MPR's Paul Tosto, is that turnout will be good.

Another interesting angle is that across the state, Minnesotan's are making a point about requiring voters to show ID at polling places. MPR reports that caucus goers in some precincts are scanning their driver's licenses as they arrive and the "information will go electronically to the Secretary of State's website." It's basically a proof of concept.

The Minnesota legislature, reports MPR, is "weighing a constitutional amendment that would require photo identification to vote. The demonstration is meant to bolster support for the idea."

Melissa Martz, a photojournalist, posted a photo of one of those precincts.

Update at 8:43 p.m. ET. The 'Uncommitted' Vote:

If you look at the returns for Missouri, you'll find that so far 6 percent of the votes are going toward "uncommitted."

The New York Times' Nate Silver explains that a "vote for no one is a vote for Newt." That's Newt Gingrich who didn't qualify to be on the ballot. But Silver provides a bit of interesting trivia:

"Once more common in primaries and caucuses - uncommitted "won" the Iowa Democratic caucuses in 1972 and 1976 - the uncommitted option has become more rare in recent years."

Update at 8:40 p.m. ET. Early Returns:

With just one percent of the vote counted, Romney leads with 40 percent of the vote, with Santorum in second with 33 percent of the vote.

Returns for Minnesota have also started trickling in.

Update at 8:34 p.m. ET. The Delegate Count:

For some perspective, here's The Wall Street Journal's delegate tracker. Romney leads with 101 delegates, including 50 from Florida, which is a winner-take-all state.

Gingrich, who is contesting Florida's right to be a winner-take-all state, comes in second with 32 delegates.

The threshold for nomination is 1,144 delegates.

Update at 8:31 p.m. ET. Ron Paul Speaks At Minnesota Caucus:

Ron Paul, who has been working caucus states hard, is now talking to a caucus in Minnesota. CNN's video showed that Paul took the stage to applause. He introduced himself and is now outlining his platform, starting with his idea of returning the United States to the gold standard.

Update at 8:24 p.m. ET. An Explanation Of Delegate Counts:

So what really counts and doesn't count tonight? Political Scientist Jonathan Bernstein explains it in great detail. But here's the bottom line: Missouri will give candidates bragging rights and that's about it.

But to say that Colorado and Minnesota don't count is folly. Basically, Bernstein writes, the delegate count will likely go according to the results of today's caucuses.

"On caucus night, I think it's reasonable to report the straw vote and treat it as a real result; that is, as a vote proper, and not similar to the Ames Straw Poll or even to tonight's Missouri primary, which is entirely unattached to the delegate process," Bernstein writes.

Update at 8:19 p.m. ET. Missouri Results start Trickling In:

The returns from Missouri are now trickling in.

Update at 8:12 p.m. ET. Polls Close In Missouri:

Polls have closed in Missouri. And caucuses are on their way in Minnesota.

Update at 7:21 p.m. ET. A Note On Timing:

Just so you know what's to come, here's how we expect the night to unfold:

-- Polls in Missouri close at 8 p.m. ET. Caucuses convene in Minnesota at that time too.

-- Colorado's caucuses convene at 9 p.m. ET.

-- We expect for results to start trickling in from Minnesota as early as 8:15 p.m.

-- Results from Colorado may not be complete until about midnight in the East Coast.

Update at 7:09 p.m. ET. Romney Manages Expectations:

One of the big stories today has been that Romney's campaign tried to temper expectations. In a memo, Romney's political director Rich Beeson said it's impossible for one candidate to win all contests. But the math is on Romney's side.

Beeson makes a couple of main points: Minnesota, Missouri And Colorado don't matter and in March with the great many contests on the calendar, "organization and resources are key." Romney's campaign, argues Beeson, is the only one with the money and ground game to take on that many states at one time.

Frank wrapped up the memo best saying Beeson was essentially saying, "resistance is futile."

Update at 6:57 p.m. ET. Real-Time Results:

We'll be providing real-time results on this page.

Update at 6:47 p.m. ET. Does Missouri Matter?:

A "beauty contest" it may be, writes NPR's Alan Greenblatt, but for Rick Santorum today's primary is a big deal. And it has more to do with the potential to have conservatives line up behind him and not Newt Gingrich. It has to do with creating enough momentum that he rises up to become "the true alternative for mainstream Republicans dissatisfied with front-runner Mitt Romney."

Alan reports:

"'Beauty contest or no beauty contest, Santorum has a real chance to win two out of the three races on Tuesday,' says Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, which has surveyed Missouri Republicans repeatedly. 'Even if that's pointless from a delegate standpoint, it might have a huge effect on uniting conservatives nationally around him.'"

The Washington Post agrees, saying Santorum needs to win two states to make that case:

"If Santorum wins one of the two states, it's more of a mixed bag. If he wins Missouri, he can argue that he can beat Romney in a head-to-head matchup (Newt Gingrich isn't on the ballot). If he wins Minnesota, he can argue that this was a state Romney carried handily in 2008.

"But without both, his case won't be as convincing, especially since late polling showed him winning both."