Santorum on a high after victories

Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is gaining ground on his rival Mitt Romney. Photo / AP
Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is gaining ground on his rival Mitt Romney. Photo / AP

Rick Santorum, the social conservative who roared back to snatch three states from the supposed frontrunner, Mitt Romney, in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, said his campaign had raised a quarter of a million dollars online within a few hours of his wins and was quickly gaining speed.

"We are doing very, very well raising money," Santorum said yesterday as he geared up to try to capitalise on his stunning clean sweep of Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.

"We definitely are the campaign with the momentum, the enthusiasm on the ground."

Even though the frantic pace of the primary and caucus season eases off a little now, with nothing in the diary until a televised debate in two weeks, the candidates quickly fanned out to court voters before contests in Arizona and Michigan in three weeks, and then 11 states on the all-important "Super Tuesday" of March 7.

While this may still be Romney's race to lose, the dramatic events of Wednesday were a reminder that it is still unpredictable. He came third in Minnesota, behind the former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum and the libertarian Texas Congressman, Ron Paul.

In Missouri, Santorum beat Romney by 30 points, though it was a non-binding result there and he was helped by the failure of Newt Gingrich to get on the ballot.

Most shocking was the nail-biting night in Colorado - a state Romney was meant to have in the bag. Instead, the former Massachusetts Governor ended up losing it to Santorum by five points.

Just as astonishing is the positive reversal of fortune of Santorum, who notably failed to convert his win in Iowa - belatedly declared - into any kind of momentum in subsequent races. All of a sudden, he can boast having won four states against three for Romney and one for Gingrich.

Romney still far outpaces his rivals in numbers of delegates backing him for the Republican Party convention in August. Indeed, under the arcane rules, Santorum does not immediately gain new delegates from Wednesday's voting, though he is likely to do so further down the road. And the money and organisational advantages still rest firmly with Team Romney.

Yet things seemed very different yesterday, even if in this race momentum can be taken away as quickly as it is given. The candidate furthest in the ditch is surely Gingrich, who thought he was going to be the conservative standard-bearer to stop Romney.

An extremely deflated-looking Stuart Stevens, a top political strategist to Romney, spelled out where he thinks the chinks in Santorum's armour lie - in his record as a US senator and Washington insider, particularly on snagging "pork-barrel" federal dollars for pet projects in his home state.

Romney must take care not to make his party's conservatives angrier than they already are. And he must also find ways to endear himself more effectively to the Republican base.

In a forlorn post-results speech, he offered a new tale about his father George, the former Michigan Governor, and the trick he developed when he was an apprentice plasterer.

"He learned how to put a handful of nails in his mouth and spit them out, point forward," Romney said.

The candidate smiled wanly, aware that tales of his father are no substitute for tales about himself to make him seem human.

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