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Feb 8, 2012 10:30 AM by AP

Santorum's hat trick jolts GOP presidential race

DENVER (AP) - Notable moments from Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and Missouri's non-binding primary:
SANTORUM HAT TRICK
Rick Santorum swept Tuesday night's nominating contests, providing a jolt to the GOP race. Speaking at a rally in Missouri, Santorum cast his wins as a victory for conservatism.
"Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota," Santorum said.
A visibly jubilant Santorum spoke before his third victory, in Colorado's nominating caucuses, was certain. Santorum's victories validated a decision he made to campaign lightly in Florida and Nevada, which preceded Tuesday's votes, and focus on Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri.
It marked a stunning comeback for Santorum, whose hopes seemed to fade after a narrow victory in Iowa was followed by losses in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
EYES ON OBAMA
Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney both focused their speeches on President Barack Obama, deriding the man they hope to run against in November. Santorum called Obama a "radical" and worked to tie Romney to Obama on policy grounds. But Santorum was careful to show a general election focus.
"I don't stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," he said. "I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."
Romney congratulated Santorum on his victories, but said flatly he still expected to be the GOP nominee.
He then ignored Santorum, spending his speech ripping into Obama's leadership.
GINGRICH ELSEWHERE
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been jostling with Santorum to be Romney's principal opponent for the GOP nomination, tried to ignore poor showings in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri by largely staying out of sight.
Instead of waiting for Tuesday's results in one of the states voting, as the other candidates did, Gingrich plowed forward to Ohio, where he planned to campaign Wednesday.
In third or fourth place in each of the states voting, Gingrich didn't make a public statement about the results. Instead, at campaign stops in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, he criticized both Romney and Obama and linked Ohio's Wright brothers to his own call for an improved U.S. space program.
DELEGATE HUNT
Rep. Ron Paul said as Tuesday's results came in that he is focused on winning delegates to the Republican convention in Tampa. Paul said he's happy with his showing in caucus states and said continuing to pile up delegates will allow him to get his campaign message out. He also said Romney's inability to brush back challenges in Tuesday's votes "opens up the door" to anyone trying to stop Romney from winning the GOP nomination.
Paul was headed toward a solid second-place showing in Minnesota's caucuses and was competing with Gingrich for third in Colorado's caucuses.
Paul said Tuesday he was surprised that Romney hadn't done better - and said his campaign will benefit from the frontrunner's struggles.

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