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Romney Hits Speed Bump Named Santorum in Missouri Romney Hits Speed Bump Named Santorum in Missouri

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Campaign 2012

Romney Hits Speed Bump Named Santorum in Missouri

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Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks next to his wife Karen, right, during a primary night watch party Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012, in St. Charles, Mo.(JEFF ROBERSON/AP)

By defeating Mitt Romney in the Missouri primary on Tuesday, Rick Santorum nursed the niggling perception that the frontrunner for the Republican nomination has yet to close the deal with conservative voters.

For Santorum, the victory reaped bragging rights but no convention delegates, and it is unlikely to provide more than a fleeting burst of momentum for his shoestring campaign. For Romney, who ignored the state, Missouri is probably little more than a speed bump on his road to the nomination. He is the only GOP contender with the money and organization demanded of a national campaign that could drag on for months.

But the results on Tuesday give Romney's rivals an opening to keep contesting the nomination and fodder to President Obama's re-election campaign as it seeks to dampen enthusiasm for its likely opponent.

"Tonight's victory should put to bed the idea that the Republican nomination for Mitt Romney is inevitable," said Stuart Roy, an advisor to the super-PAC backing Santorum that ran television ads on his behalf in Missouri.

Santorum virtually had the state to himself. Newt Gingrich, who has been viewed as the bigger threat to Romney, did not qualify for the ballot in Missouri. CNN declared Santorum the winner in Missouri at about 9:45 p.m. as votes in Minnesota and Colorado were still being counted.

It was Santorum's first win since his narrow, come-from-behind victory in the Iowa caucus that kicked off the nominating process on Jan. 3. Santorum derived little momentum from the caucus, partly because the state party initially declared him a runner-up and partly because he was ill-prepared for the next contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada.

Minnesota Republicans are known for their socially conservative views, and Santorum has stressed his opposition to abortion and the importance of traditional marriage more than any other candidate. In contrast, Romney, a Mormon who once took moderate positions on abortion and gay rights, has struggled to win over the Christian conservatives who dominate many GOP contests.Those voters presumably boosted Santorum to victory in Missouri, as they did for Gingrich in South Carolina.

Even in Florida, where Romney won handily, Gingrich beat him among the most conservative voters and the strongest supporters of the tea party.
 
Romney sought to tamp down expectations for Tuesday's contests. His campaign stressed that no delegates would be awarded in any of the three contests and called Missouri "strictly a beauty contest.'' The caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota were only a first step toward naming delegates to the party's national convention, and Missouri's primary was only for show; the state will hold caucuses next month.

"Of course there is no way for any nominee to win first place in every single contest,'' Romney's political director, Rich Beeson said in a statement Tuesday morning. "John McCain lost 19 states in 2008, and we expect our opponents to notch a few wins. But unlike the other candidates, our campaign has the resources and organization to keep winning over the long run.''

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