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Huge Night for Santorum

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Rick wins big.

Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado may not be delegate rich, but Santorum's clean caucus sweep has upended Mitt Romney's aura of inevitability.

Mitt Romney is still the favorite to win the nomination. Romney has the money, the organization, and with Santorum and Newt Gingrich both in the race they will split the anti-Mitt vote, leaving neither with a commanding count of delegates, but Tuesday night might have been a game changer for Santorum.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, will pull in much needed campaign cash, and his win could strengthen conservatives nationally around him. Certainly it gives Santorum grounds for claiming that he -- not Newt Gingrich -- is the strongest conservative alternative to Romney. Santorum did campaign aggressively in all three states. He skipped Florida's primary, and that strategy paid off. Santorum, who was all but on life support, has lived to fight another day.

Poor Mitt Romney. Forget that mantle of the presumptive nominee. The businessman just can't close the deal. Romney wins Florida and Nevada, spending the week as the undisputed front-runner. It appeared history was even on his side.

The former Massachusetts governor even prevailed in both Minnesota and Colorado in 2008, the first time he ran for the nomination, but the Republican Party has become more conservative in both states since then. He campaigned heavily in Colorado this time around, but it was not meant to be.

Let's all chime in together now.

Romney has an enthusiasm problem.

Contrast that with Santorum who has new legitimacy, and finally a new look from the national media.

"Conservatism is alive and well," Santorum said Tuesday night from St. Charles, Mo., as he proclaimed himself the "conservative alternative" to President Obama.

Romney predicted he will eventually become the GOP nominee, and focused his remarks in Denver on Obama. "Under his own definition President Obama has failed. We will succeed," he said.

Perhaps!

Perhaps that's the case. That ultimately Mr. Romney will succeed against President Obama, but he has to get there first, and with these three states there are renewed questions that Team Romney surely doesn't want to face at this stage of the process.

Can Romney appeal to the conservatives at the core of the party's political base?

Are voters still looking for someone else?

Does Romney resonate with Republicans?

Is the race wide open?

Romney showed no sign of disappointment in remarks to supporters, but his momentum is again slowed down. Another question has to be, what happens if after this trifecta, Santorum catches fire with the base? (The same way Newt and Herman Cain did.)

After eight contests in the GOP presidential race, Santorum now has four victories under his belt in Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

Romney has victories in New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada.

Newt Gingrich won South Carolina.

Making matters worse for Romney, and what had to please the Obama White House, is that Santorum's extreme stance on many social issues will force Romney to stay to the right for a longer period, making Romney less attractive to independent voters that will be needed in the fall.

On the plus side for Romney, he still has the possibility to deliver a knockout blow on Super Tuesday. Ten states vote on March 6. Again, he has the organization and the financial strength. Money can solve a lot of problems for a candidate, but can not deliver true likability from the electorate.

Can Romney get back the momentum?

  Obama Romney
Obama Romney
332 206
Obama leading
Obama won
Romney leading
Romney won
Popular Vote
33 out of 100 seats are up for election. 51 are needed for a majority.
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Holdover
Republican leading
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Democrats* Republicans
Current Senate 53 47
Seats gained or lost +2 -2
New Total 55 45
* Includes two independent senators expected to caucus with the Democrats: Angus King (Maine) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
All 435 seats are up for election. 218 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
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Republican leading
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Seats won 201 234
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