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

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This is the first day this year when there are contests in more than one state. Santorum and Paul skipped last week's Florida primary to campaign elsewhere, and that strategy paid off for Santorum. His efforts in Minnesota and Missouri caught the attention of the Romney campaign, which put Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on a conference call to talk trash about the former-senator from Pennsylvania.

And once again, Gingrich may have been a spoiler for Romney. Even though he abandoned hope in all three states and moved on to Ohio, his absence potentially freed up conservative voters to side with Santorum, who has been itching for a good headline since his surprise victory in Iowa, the first state to vote in the GOP primary.

"Santorum probably resonates well with many Republicans here," said John Petrocik, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Missouri. "This is a culturally conservative place. Conservative religious groups, they're certainly a factor in Missouri, so I could imagine him doing fairly well."

The previous voting contests were all scheduled in a cluster, but after today's races there is a lull, which will allow the story of the outcomes in these three states to linger for weeks before another primary. Maine has a week of caucuses that ends Feb. 11, but after that the next voting isn't until Feb. 28, in Arizona and in Michigan.

It's also unlikely that any of the candidates will drop out of the race after Tuesday's votes. Gingrich, who dethroned Romney as the front-runner after a South Carolina win, has vowed to contest every state; Santorum got enough votes to prove that he can stay competitive; and Paul hasn't shown signs that he'd quit despite not yet winning a single primary or caucus.

All of which is unpleasant news for Romney, who has been forced to respond to venomous attacks from his rivals instead of focusing his attention on President Obama. Four years ago, Romney ended his 2008 bid for the GOP nomination shortly after losing to McCain on "Super Tuesday," which was Feb. 5 that year. This time around, "Super Tuesday" isn't until March 6.

ABC News's Elizabeth Hartfield and Emily Friedman contributed reporting.

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