Rick Santorum - cat among GOP pigeons

2012-02-08 22:37

Washington - Rick Santorum, dismissed by many as a fringe candidate of the Tea Party and religious conservatives, has surged back into contention for the Republican presidential nomination.

With his strong showing of 40 to 55% in primary elections and caucuses in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Tuesday night, he upstaged Mitt Romney who had been seen as the frontrunner, and made himself a strong third force in what had been seen as a two-man race.

His victories upended the presumed trajectory that had moderate Romney, 64, running away with the contest and defeating the man who had been seen as the only other viable contender, Newt Gingrich, 68.

Santorum, 53, a former US senator from Pennsylvania, quickly moved to take the fight to US President Barack Obama, who is running for re-election in November as the centre-left Democrat.

"I don't stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney; I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama," Santorum crowed after clinching Missouri and Minnesota.

Santorum claimed 55% of the vote in the central US state of Missouri, to Romney's 25%. Gingrich did not contend the vote.

In the northernstate of Minnesota, it was 46% for Santorum, a surprising 27% for Ron Paul, 17% for Romney and 11% for Gingrich.

And in Colorado, a state that Romney won in his 2008 bid for the Republican nomination, Santorum claimed 40% to Romney's 35% and Gingrich's 13%.

The results put four of the eight states that have voted so far into Santorum's column, including his win of the first contest in Iowa last month. Romney has three states - including the big prize of Florida - and Gingrich has one.

About delegate votes

But in the end, the battle is over delegate votes, not individual states. To secure the nomination, a candidates needs 1 144 delegates by the time the other 42 states have weighed in by late June.

Pundits pointed out that none of Santorum's victory states on Tuesday have yet formally awarded their delegate votes, a step that will be taken at party conventions later this year. And the states that voted on Tuesday are relatively small. To date, Romney leads the delegate race with 86, followed by Gingrich with 35, Santorum with 22 and Paul 20, according to CNN.

Santorum's surprising performance has put even more pressure Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, to prove his appeal to a deeply-split Republican electorate.

Romney is portrayed by his rivals as a "Massachusetts moderate" and takes continuing heat for putting through as governor a state medical insurance reform system that served as a model for Obama in creating national health care reform.

So-called "Obamacare" is a major issue for conservative voters, who view it as a socialist plot to take choices about health care out of the hands of individuals. The candidates including Romney have fallen over each other vowing that they will dismantle it as soon as they enter the White House.

With an eye on the polls leading up to Tuesday's elections, Romney's staff tried to minimize the damage and said the campaign had often said he would not win every state. They pointed out that John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate, lost 19 states.

Santorum's surge sets up an intriguing three-way contest for "Super Tuesday" on March 6, when voters in 11 states cast their votes.

In the intervening weeks, Arizona and Michigan cast ballots on February 28 and Washington state voters on March 3.

Read more on:    ron paul  |  newt gingrich  |  mitt romney  |  rick santorum  |  us  |  us elections 2012

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