Santorum stunner: Sweeps 3 GOP contests

DENVER -- It took one night for Rick Santorum to become a player again in the Republican presidential race.

The former Pennsylvania senator came out on top in the voting in all three contests Tuesday night, including an unexpected five-point victory in Colorado's caucuses. Santorum also won the Minnesota caucuses, by an 18-point margin, and he won by 30 points in the Missouri primary.

Santorum moves on without any new delegates, but with plenty of momentum.

For everyone who flat-out declared the GOP battle a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, voters in three states Tuesday night said, "Not so fast." Rick Santorum pulled off huge wins in Missouri, Minnesota and, incredibly, Colorado -- a state Romney was supposed to have locked up.

"Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota," Santorum told a cheering crowd in Missouri.

Santorum was such an underdog that, just a week ago, people were speculating he'd drop out. Last night, he not only won -- he blew out his competition.

"Your votes today," he declared, "were not just heard loud and wide across the states of Missouri and Minnesota, but they were heard loud and louder all across this country."

Santorum wins in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado
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The states were a bit quirky -- Missouri, for example, was basically a beauty contest, with voters caucusing next month for real.

Still, Santorum's strong showing is a huge blow to the front-runners, especially Newt Gingrich, who's been campaigning as the conservative alternative to Romney.

But with Gingrich's stumbles, and voters nervous about his baggage, Tuesday night, Santorum assumed that title. Gingrich finished no better than third.

Romney admitted to his supporters that it was a, "good night for Rick Santorum. I want to congratulate Sen. Santorum."

But as big a win as it was for Santorum, it also was a rejection of Romney, who so far has not persuaded Republicans he can carry the conservative message.

"I appreciate all you've done to help. We have a long way to go," Romney conceded.

Tuesday night, Santorum set his sights beyond his Republican rivals, saying, "I don't stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."

For Santorum -- who won the Iowa caucuses -- Tuesday night was vindication of sorts, after Gingrich suggested he should quit. He and Romney now have won four states each, to Gingrich's one. And it's a lot harder to see how a Gingrich comeback would work.

To see Jan Crawford's report, click on the video in the player above. Also, CBS News political director John Dickerson offered some perspective on the state of the GOP race. To see the interview, click on the video below.

  • Jan Crawford On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

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