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Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses on a razor-thin margin was in the also-ran category until Tuesday night, when he upset rival Mitt Romney to win the Colorado caucuses, the non-binding Missouri primary and the Minnesota caucuses.

Santorum, though, said in Missouri that he wasn’t looking to be the alternative to Romney.

“I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama,” Santorum said.

With 100 percent of the vote counted in Missouri, Santorum had 55 percent, compared to 25 percent for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and 12 percent for Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was not on the state’s ballot.

In Minnesota, with 95 percent of the caucuses reporting, Santorum had 45 percent to 27 percent for Paul, 17 percent for Romney and 11 percent for Gingrich.

In Colorado, one time zone further west, 100 percent of the caucuses tabulated showed Santorum with 40 percent, Romney at 35 percent, Gingrich at 13 percent and Paul with 12 percent.

Republican Party officials said no delegates were being awarded tonight, so the contests essentially were for bragging rights.

But the wins come at the right time for Santorum, as the candidates now have some time off before the Super Tuesday primaries in another handful of states.

“These are very strong indications as to where Republican voters are going right now,” Santorum said on Fox News. “The bottom line is: These contests matter. That’s why they have the votes.”

Santorum surged out of the gate with his win by a hair over Romney in Iowa, but he fell into a tie for third in New Hampshire, was third in South Carolina, third again in Florida and last in Nevada.

He was elected to the U.S. House in 1990 at the age of 32, then moved into the Senate.

He eventually was part of the “Gang of Seven” who exposed the congressional banking and congressional post office scandals.

One Washington reporter noted Santorum “was a tea party kind of guy before there was a tea party.”

Santorum promotes himself as the true conservative among the remaining GOP candidates, with a record of work on pro-life and fiscal restraint issues.

Michele Bachmann, who suspended her campaign after several also-ran finishes, told Greta Van Susteren on the Fox News Channel that the results are at least partly because of Barack Obama’s fiasco over health care that has enraged leaders in the Catholic church.

“I think you’re seeing a lot of people react against President Obama’s policies. … We haven’t had a social-issue election yet. This is the first one,” she said.

“President Obama has done himself no favors on re-election. People are very upset about it,” she said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it’s important for Republicans to come together on a nominee soon.

“The adversary is President Obama, and the sooner we focus on that the better,” McCain said.

Obama’s health plan now is set to require religious groups such as Catholic hospitals and Christian universities to pay for medications such as the “morning after” pill that many regard as an abortion drug.

Catholics have said they won’t comply, and Obama’s compromise to date has been to say the requirement will be held off for one year.

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