Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum delivered a three-strike punch against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney‘s claim to the Republican Presidential nomination Tuesday, sweeping caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and winning a non-binding primary in Missouri.
Romney came in second in Colorado and Missouri and fell to third in Minnesota — his lowest finish yet in this fledgling primary season.
In wins, Santorum — in one night — became the new GOP frontrunner, capturing four states to date while Romney trails in second with three, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich comes in fourth with one and Texas Congressman Ron Paul brings up the rear with no wins.
In delegate counts, however, Romney still leads, with Gingrich second. No candidate officially won any delegates Tuesday. All states will determine the allocation later.
Publicly, Romney expressed “mild disappointment” but a senior campaign aide confided to Capitol Hill Blue that the candidate was “visibly shaken” by the results.
Santorum called his sweep a “a victory for conservatism” and zeroed in on both President Barack Obama and Romney.
“I care about the very rich and the very poor,” Santorum said in a swipe at Romney’s gaffe last week when he said he wasn’t concerned about the rich or poor but the middle class. “I care about 100 percent of America.”
For Gingrich, Tuesday was outright rejection. He received just 13 percent of the vote in Colorado, 11 percent in Minnesota and wasn’t even on the ballot in Missouri.
Paul finished second in Minnesota — 18 points behind Santorum — and last in Colorado and Missouri.
But Romney came out the big loser, suffering defeats in states he won in the 2008 GOP primaries.
“Hold on, it’s going to be a wild year,” a senior GOP strategist told Capitol Hill Blue. “This is a season when anything can happen.”