Santorum: GOP race now in 'no man's land'

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Story highlights

  • Santorum wins in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado
  • The campaign says the sweep will help with fund-raising
  • "We pick Rick," supporters chant
  • Tuesday was the first multi-state polling day of the year

As he was handily winning three Republican contests and stalling frontrunner Mitt Romney's clear path to the Republican presidential nomination, Rick Santorum proclaimed to CNN that the 2012 GOP race was now "in a little bit of no man's land."

The former Pennsylvania senator's campaign got a massive dose of momentum after stunning frontrunner Mitt Romney with a clean sweep on Tuesday night, beating him by double digits in Minnesota, a state Romney won in 2008; stunning him in Colorado, another state in Romney's column in 2008; and trouncing him in Missouri, one of the country's biggest battleground states.

"I don't stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," Santorum told supporters in a convention hall just west of St. Louis. "I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."

The crowd erupted in cheers, chanting "We pick Rick! We pick Rick!"

Never mind that Tuesday night's win in Missouri won't actually rack up any delegates for Santorum.

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The state's 52 delegates will be awarded when GOP caucuses are held in mid-March. But he touted the win as proof that his message is gaining traction even without the campaign checkbook or ground operation that Romney has.

"Tonight we had an opportunity to see what a campaign looks like when one candidate isn't outspent 5- or 10-to-1 by negative ads, impugning their integrity and distorting the record," Santorum said, standing with his wife. "This is a more accurate representation frankly of what the fall race would look like."

    Even before the results started coming in Tuesday evening, Santorum's advisers were setting expectations high on the first multi-state polling day of the year.

    Santorum advisers told CNN that his website's traffic was up over the past few days, saying it was "going through the roof."

    Although they didn't have any of their own polling showing they were gaining support in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, the campaign pointed out that crowds were getting bigger at their stops and the anecdotal evidence gave them a good feeling going into Tuesday's vote.

    The Romney campaign emphasized Missouri's primary wasn't a true test because delegates weren't officially awarded.

    "Part of the process. No delegates," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul told CNN after Missouri was called for Santorum.

    But Santorum aides call that argument "laughable" and pointed to Romney's major focus on the Iowa caucuses, another state where delegates won't be awarded until months after the vote.

    One Santorum adviser told CNN that the strong showing this month will be a springboard for Santorum heading into Super Tuesday to solidify him -- not Gingrich -- as the alternative to Romney, who has not been able to bring the conservative base into his camp.

    "February is about perception and momentum leading into Super Tuesday," the adviser said.

    The Santorum campaign believes that Tuesday's strong showing will be a huge boost to its fund-raising efforts, even scheduling its next stop in Texas.

    "That's where the money is," the adviser said.

        Election 2012

      • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

        A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
      • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

        The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
      • Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
      • US President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

        The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
      • Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.