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Rick Santorum won the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses and a non-binding primary in Missouri on Tuesday night, an unexpected sweep that raised fresh questions about Mitt Romney’s ability to win the Republican presidential nomination.

On the flip side, it may help Romney inadvertently.

With Santorum emerging as competition to Newt Gingrich as the principal alternative to Romney, voters continue to veer among candidates but have not coalesced behind one consistently, often leaving Romney ahead almost by default.

Rick Santorum Pic

Gingrich has won one state, South Carolina. Santorum has now won four, including Iowa. Romney won New Hampshire January 10 and then back-to-back victories in Florida and Nevada that had led to predictions that he was inevitable.

Not so fast.

The results on Tuesday shook the political world, though it is an open question whether they are a momentary embarrassment or a prolonged setback Romney.

Romney goes into the next round of primaries and caucuses much better financed than his opponents in what will be much more of a nationwide campaign.

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Results show Mitt Romney winning the 2012 Nevada caucuses by a sizable margin, giving him his third victory in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

With 71 percent of precincts reporting, Romney has 47 percent to Newt Gingrich's 23 percent and Ron Paul's 19 percent, with Rick Santorum at 11 percent.

In his victory speech from Las Vegas, Romney made clear that he's looking ahead to the general election, focusing his remarks on President Obama.

"Four years ago candidate Obama came to Nevada promising to help," he said. "Mr. President, Nevada has had enough of your kind of help," he said.

Mitt in NV

"We're not going to settle for a president who tells us it could be worse," he added, trying to downplay recent job gains and the drop in unemployment.

A victory in Nevada leaves Romney primed for what should be a strong month for him: Six more states vote in February, and he won four of them in 2008.

Still, the race is far from over. Not including Nevada's delegates, which will be awarded proportionally, Romney has just 80 of the 1,144 needed at this point.

If someone were to start pulling off some upset wins - not out of the question in this fluid cycle - on or before Super Tuesday (March 6), we could have a race.

The 2012 Nevada caucus results (incomplete):

  1. Mitt Romney: 47% (11,822 votes, 11 delegates)
  2. Newt Gingrich: 23% (5,623, 2 delegates)
  3. Ron Paul: 19% (4,619, 2 delegates)
  4. Rick Santorum: 11% (2,749, 0 delegates)

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Mitt Romney rolled to victory in the Florida primary Tuesday, dispatching Newt Gingrich after his win in South Carolina and reclaiming a dominant position in the GOP race.

The triumph by Romney offered perhaps his first forceful response to the concerns that were raised about his candidacy only 10 days ago ... and throughout the last year.

While there remain plenty of doubters, a 14-point win with no asterisk in the biggest state so far (Romney won all 50 delegates) will resonate more than his past results.

That isn't saying too much, given that he's yet to win a majority in any state (although Florida's delegates were winner-take-all). Nevertheless, he beat Newt convincingly.

W. Mitt Romney

“A competitive primary does not divide us,” Romney told supporters. “It prepares us. And we will win. I stand ready to lead this party and to lead our nation.”

But if the Florida Republican primary results promised to reorder the field, none of Romney's challengers got the memo. Gingrich quickly pledged to fight on.

Gingrich spoke to a crowd in Orlando holding signs reading “46 States to Go,” saying he had a message for those wondering about the future of his 2012 bid.

“We are going to contest every place, and we will win,” said Gingrich, who did not congratulate Romney for his victory, nor did he call him on Tuesday night.

Rick Santorum, who finished third, and Ron Paul, who finished fourth, have also shown no indication that they're dropping out of the race anytime soon.

The next month is relatively light on primaries and caucuses, leading up to the Super Tuesday slate of elections March 6. Nevada and Maine vote Saturday.

The 2012 Florida GOP primary results:

  1. Mitt Romney: 771,842 (46.4%)
  2. Newt Gingrich: 531,294 (31.9%)  
  3. Rick Santorum: 222,248 (13.4%)  
  4. Ron Paul: 116,776 (7.0%)

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Thursday's Republican presidential debate, the 19th in this election cycle, saw Mitt Romney tried to fend off Newt Gingrich, while Ron Paul and Rick Santorum shined.

Romney came out swinging fast and when Gingrich attacked, he hit back. Much more aggressive than in the past, he's going all-in to win Tuesday's Florida primary.

In that respect, he likely succeeded in blunting some of Newt's momentum in Florida, as Gingrich was flatter Thursday than in some of the past debates he's owned.

He had some nice zingers and applause-garnering policy proposals, but not a proverbial "knockout punch" like he delivered en route to winning in South Carolina.

Gingrich received praise for his harsh attack on debate moderator John King last week and tried to double down on his strategy of attacking the host to build support.

It backfired a bit last night. Wolf Blitzer stood his ground when Gingrich would not answer a question about his apparent truce over the issue of Romney's tax return.

He called the question "nonsense" and suggested they talk about "issues that relate to the governing of America," but Wolf - and later Mitt - got the better of him.

Rick Santorum, meanwhile, had probably his strongest debate performance in a year, pointedly criticizing both Gingrich and Romney on a variety of issues.

The fourth candidate running, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, would probably be called the winner of the debate if the mainstream media would take him seriously.

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Florida played host to the latest Republican presidential debate Monday night, and Mitt Romney came out swinging against newly-anointed co-frontrunner Newt Gingrich.

After Gingrich routed him in South Carolina, Romney was forced to change course from his usual try-not-to-lose strategy of appearing competent, inoffensive and vanilla.

Mitt apparently got the memo that in order to stop Florida (which holds its primary January 31) from becoming South Carolina redux, he actually has to show some fight.

As such, he blasted  as an influence peddler and disgraced politician in the debate, which marked the GOP race's most heated and personal exchanges to date.

Gingrich, the grand master of the 18 debates to date, and who pulled off a stunning upset in S.C. in large part due to some debate highlights, was, for once, thrown off.

The most shocking moment of last night may have been when Newt said nothing at all, briefly falling into a frustrated silence at one point amid Romney's barrage.

The night epitomized the direction of the race. It's the insurgents vs. the establishment, with Newt hoping to mobilize the former and Mitt looking to swat him down.

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Another Republican debate has come and gone, and as usual there was no shortage of fireworks as Newt Gingrich clashed with his rivals ... and CNN's John King.

Amid reports that Newt asked Marianne Gingrich for an open marriage while cheating on her with Callista Bisek in 1999, King led off the GOP debate with that topic.

Newt was not happy, and he let King know it ...

Reaming out the “destructive, vicious, negative” media rather than his ex-wife, who raised these accusations yesterday, Gingrich said he was appalled by CNN.

Newt, who went on to divorce Marianne and marry Callista in 2000 (they are still married), punctuated his lengthy answer by saying, “The story is false.”

Some other highlights of the second South Carolina debate this week, and the last before Saturday's critical primary in the Palmetto State included:

  • Rick Santorum saying Barack Obama stands for “economic squalor”
  • Mitt Romney saying "maybe" he'll release his tax returns sometime
  • Santorum repeatedly criticizing Newt's grandiosity and stability
  • Gingrich and Santorum claiming Romney is not really pro-life
  • Ron Paul fans yelling for their man to get more screen time

With time running out for all candidates not named Mitt Romney to post a win and halt his march toward the Republican nomination, the tension was high.

Can any of them do it? We'll find out by tomorrow night. We've posted the entire GOP debate, and invite you to share your feedback with us, after the jump:

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Jon Huntsman may have gotten out just in time.

In front of by FAR the most raucous crowd of any Republican debate held thus far, the five remaining GOP hopefuls squared off in South Carolina last night.

Ostensibly, everybody not named Mitt Romney angled to knock the frontrunner off his pedestal. In reality, it became a game of rhetorical one-upmanship.

The crowd cheered their support of U.S. soldiers urinating on dead Afghan bodies and their condemnation of the Obama administration’s condemnation of it.

Newt Gingrich earned a standing ovation for this quote: “Andrew Jackson knew what to do with his enemies - he killed them.” How professorial he can be.

Even Romney, the most vanilla of all candidates, got into the act, saying “The right thing for Osama bin Laden was the bullet in the head that he received.”

No one here's missing Osama, but really Mitt?

The audience then jeered Ron Paul for suggesting that “we should practice the Golden Rule in foreign policy.” Nice to see we boo NOT bombing people.

The yelled their approval of Rick Perry saying America should “go to zero on foreign aid.” They booed Juan Williams for questioning Newt's big janitor idea.

The South Carolina primary has a reputation for being a bloodbath, and last night's rancor showed why. Just imagine if this race were in any way close.

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It's hard not to see how Dr. Paul got the better of this one.

At last night's GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich was asked to respond to Ron Paul referring to has a Chicken Hawk in the past.

After a long-winded, largely irrelevant response by Gingrich, Paul said that description of Newt was correct, launching into his own opinions on veterans affairs.

When it comes to the power to wage war, and foreign affairs in general, Paul is unflinching in his views, even if they're diametrically opposed to his counterparts'.

Moreover, Paul reiterated that he, despite being married with children, served in the Vietnam War when drafted. Watch the heated exchange below:

Ron Paul Biography

Ron Paul Photo Dr. Ron Paul is an obstetrician, author, United States Congressman, and a candidate for the 2012 Republican Party presidential... More »
Born
Birthplace
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Full Name
Ronald Ernest Paul
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