Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum kisses wife Karen before speaking to supporters after winning the Missouri Primary during a rally in St. Charles, Missouri on February 7, 2012. UPI/Bill Greenblatt | License Photo
DENVER, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Republican White House hopeful Rick Santorum swept the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and won the non-binding Missouri primary, officials said early Wednesday.
Unofficial vote counts gave the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania slightly more than 40 percent in Colorado, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 35 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 13 percent and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas about 12 percent.
Santorum handily won Minnesota with about 45 percent of the vote, compared with 27 percent for Paul, 17 percent for Romney and 11 percent for Newt Gingrich, unofficial results indicated.
In Missouri's non-binding primary, Santorum had 55 percent of the vote, followed by Romney at 25 percent and 12 percent for Paul. Gingrich didn't make the ballot in Missouri.
The primary offered bragging rights but no delegates. Missouri delegates to August's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., will be determined in state caucuses March 17.
Santorum's triple-play victories marked a sharp turnaround for the candidate, who failed until now to capitalize on his narrow win in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3 -- a victory awarded only after the fact.
"Conservatism is alive and well," he told supporters at his election night party in St. Charles, Mo. "I don't stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."
Santorum thanked God for getting him through the "dog days" of the campaign and the illness of his daughter Bella. He also joined Gingrich is vowing to take the campaign all the way to the Republican convention.
He called Romney an imperfect conservative messenger who "has the same positions as Barack Obama" on healthcare and environmental policy.
Romney spoke in Colorado before the state winner was declared, telling a subdued crowd of supporters he was "pretty confident we'll come in No. 1 or No. 2."
He acknowledged "a good night for Sen. Santorum," but said, "I expect to become our nominee with your help."
Gingrich said in Ohio before the Colorado winner was declared he thought "the big story coming out tonight is that it's very hard for the elite media to portray Gov. Romney as inevitable."
Paul told supporters he joined Santorum and Gingrich in hoping to continue collecting delegates and appearing at the GOP convention.