Santorum wins bragging rights in Minnesota caucusby Jon Collins, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Attention to Minnesota and consistent criticism of fellow Republican Mitt Romney as being too moderate appeared to pay off for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the Republican presidential caucus Tuesday. He also won the Colorado caucuses, and a primary race in Missouri.
Santorum is likely to leverage the victories as evidence that he's fit for the GOP nomination. He hadn't won a contest since Iowa's caucuses at the start of January.
But his three victories come with a caveat: Because of state-by-state rules, the results are nonbinding and no delegates are assigned.
The Minnesota Secretary of State's office reported Wednesday morning that Santorum garnered 21,420, or 44.81 percent of all votes cast. Ron Paul won 13,023 (27.24 percent), Romney was third with 8,090 (16.92 percent), and Newt Gingrich trailed a distant fourth with 5,128 (10.73 percent).
Santorum left Minnesota after an afternoon rally in Blaine. Later, he addressed a crowd in Missouri after news organizations declared him the winner in all three states.
"Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota," Santorum told the crowd. "Tonight was not just a victory for us. It was a victory for the voices of our party, conservatives and tea party people."
Santorum told the crowd that President Barack Obama was not listening to voters when he supported legislation meant to help banks, or signed health care reform into law. He contended that his GOP rival Romney isn't much different from Obama on those issues.
"I don't stand here to be to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," Santorum said. "I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."
Santorum supporter Ed Bird turned out at the Coon Rapids caucus because the candidate is the most conservative of the field, he said.
"I think he's absolutely got more conservative values," Bird said. "He's a good religious person, a strong person of conviction."
But Bird worries that Santorum can't beat Obama.
"Romney could probably be elected as well as Santorum, but I'm closer to Santorum in terms of his basic social values and what he wants to do as far as the economy," Bird said.
Kelly Gunderson helped run her precinct caucus in Lino Lakes. She said turnout there seemed comparable to levels she saw in 2008, when record numbers of Minnesotans of both parties attended caucuses.
"It's because we don't have a clear candidate for president, which I think is a good thing," Gunderson said. "I like to have the caucus system do what it's intended to do, which is to get more people involved and get them out there to show their support for their candidate."
Tuesday's results are a setback for Romney, who was widely seen as the frontrunner after winning recent contests in Florida and Nevada. Romney won the Minnesota caucus in 2008, He was endorsed by his one-time presidential rival and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty months ago. Pawlenty also stumped for Romney in the days leading up to the caucuses.
Brian Davis of Lino Lakes supported Romney, he said, partly because the candidate from Massachusetts had the best shot at winning.
"All the candidates are good, all of them are far preferable to the current president, but Mitt Romney, I believe, is the person who can actually lead and get things done," Davis said.
Paul was the only presidential candidate who spent the evening in Minnesota, attending a caucus night party in Golden Valley.
Minnesotans "love liberty," he said. "They don't like wars, and they sure don't like the Federal Reserve, and they don't like the economy they have."
"I've heard nothing but good stories about all of you staying around and going through the process, understanding the process and voting and getting delegates," Paul added. "So when the dust settles, I think there's a very good chance that we're going to have the maximum number of delegates coming out of Minnesota," Paul said.
Minnesota Democrats also caucused, although Obama does not face any challengers for the nomination.
The Independence Party did not hold a straw poll for a presidential candidate. But 80 percent of caucus-goers surveyed by the party said they oppose a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, which Minnesota voters will consider in November.
Compiled from reports by MPR reporters Jon Collins, Tom Scheck, Catharine Richert, Sasha Aslanian, Mark Zdechlik, Tim Pugmire, Laura Yuen and Dan Gunderson.