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.PlayABC NEWS
WATCH Rick Santorum Wins Minn., Mo. and Colo. Primaries

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.

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.