Santorum hopes to build on momentum
Washington - Rick Santorum looked Wednesday to build on his surprising victories in three Republican contests and establish himself as a serious rival to Mitt Romney for his party's nomination to run against President Barack Obama.
Santorum's victories on Tuesday in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri jolted what has already been a tumultuous presidential race.
Before those contests, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, appeared on track for the nomination, with Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, as his main rival. Santorum was seen as out of the running.
But Tuesday's results showed that Romney is still struggling to win over the bulk of the conservatives who make up the bedrock of the Republican Party. And Gingrich's weak showing, combined with Santorum's success, made it unclear who the top rival is.
Santorum, a former senator, said his victories led to a surge of donations overnight. His few aides travelled to distant camps to start building campaign organisations from scratch.
Santorum arranged a weekend of fundraising events in California and he planned to campaign in three other states next week.
"We definitely are the campaign right now with the momentum, the enthusiasm on the ground," he said.
But he remains a longshot for the nomination. Romney has a lot more money and a much stronger campaign organisation. Romney also leads the count of delegates who will choose the nominee, with 112 to 72 for Santorum and 32 for Gingrich.
Also, as long as Gingrich and Santorum are both viable, they could split the conservative vote, allowing Romney to win nominating contests even if he falls short of a majority.
Santorum's victory could benefit Obama, who faces a tough re-election campaign because of the weak US economy. Romney is generally seen as his most formidable potential opponent. Even if Romney ultimately prevails, a long, hard-fought nomination battle might weaken him ahead of the general election.
As Santorum plotted his next moves, Romney was in Atlanta, where he said he expects to do better in future contests in winning the votes of the party conservatives who delivered Santorum his triumphs on Tuesday night.
Hoping for a breakthrough
Romney criticised Santorum as a supporter of earmarked federal spending. He said the conservative, anti-tax tea party movement was created to fight Washington insiders who spend too much, and Santorum and Gingrich are "the very Republicans who acted like Democrats" when it came to spending in Congress.
For his part, the other Republican candidate Texas Representative Ron Paul hoped for a breakthrough of his own in Maine this weekend, and Gingrich campaigned for a second straight day in Ohio, one of the Super Tuesday states.
Speaking to a small audience of employees at a Jergens metal manufacturing plan in Cleveland, Gingrich said the United States could pay a terrible price if Iran develops nuclear weapons.
Noting Santorum's triumphs on Wednesday, Gingrich said the Republicans could arrive at their convention this summer without any candidate in control, the first time that would have happened since 1940.
Romney and Paul are the undisputed favourites in Maine, the next state weighing in on the Republican presidential race. They're the only candidates who have made much of an effort in the state. Maine's Republican Party is set to announce the victor on Saturday night of the Republican contest.