Rick Santorum Sweeps: Stops Mitt Romney in Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado

PHOTO: Republican candidate Rick Santorum speaks after winning the Minnesota and Missouri primary, Feb. 7, 2012.
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Rick Santorum won all three Republican voting contests Tuesday night, breaking Mitt Romney's winning streak and denying him the image of an unstoppable front-runner.

Based on ABC News projections, Santorum won the Missouri primary and the Minnesota caucus. The Colorado GOP also tells ABC News that Santorum won that state's caucus.

In Missouri, Romney came in second, though he didn't do as well in Minnesota, where he got third.

Ron Paul placed second in Minnesota and third in Missouri. Newt Gingrich wasn't on the Missouri ballot, and he finished in fourth in Minnesota.

At a victory rally in Missouri, Santorum predicted that Romney would be denied his oft-noted massive campaign organization come the fall. And he said of his own supporters' cheers that "in Massachusetts, they were heard particularly loud tonight."

"We doubled 'em up here and in Minnesota," Santorum said to cheers he hadn't heard since his resurgent finish in Iowa a month ago.

Romney, meanwhile, didn't have a chance to give a victory speech. Speaking in Colorado as he trailed Santorum in the vote count there, the former Massachusetts governor said that "the race is too close to call in Colorado at this point, but I'm pretty confident we'll come in number one or number two."

"This was a good night for Rick Santorum," said Romney, who called Santorum after the results in Missouri and Minnesota were reported, though he left a message because he didn't get through to him. "I want to congratulate Senator Santorum. I wish him the very best."

Exactly four years ago, Romney gave a different speech -- the one in which he dropped out of the 2008 Republican primary to support John McCain. On Tuesday night, Romney spoke of 2008 only in terms of the promises Barack Obama made when he was elected president.

In the past week, Romney had been the undisputed front-runner after wins in Florida and in Nevada. He had expected strong showings in Minnesota and Colorado, having won both states' caucuses in 2008. Now he's lost both states tonight. His campaign had already tried to lower expectations by arguing that no candidate can win them all.

"Of course, there is no way for any nominee to win first place in every single contest -- John McCain lost 19 states in 2008, and we expect our opponents to notch a few wins too," Romney's political director Rich Beeson wrote in a memo for reporters.

After most of the votes had been tallied, Romney adviser Stuart Stevens told reporters that "we had to make tough choices and really focus on the delegates." The actual delegate count for the states that voted Tuesday won't be determined until later.

"There will be the same amount of delegates today as there are tomorrow," Stevens said. "You have to make these tough choices. We made these choices to focus on states that are going to be critical for delegates, and everyone's got to run their own campaign."

While the four candidates are competing for delegates -- 76 between the two caucuses (none in the Missouri primary) -- the real prize is the evolving media narrative that accompanies a surprise victory, or a better-than-expected finish, which Santorum appears to have clinched.

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