Rick Santorum, treated as political road kill last year and again in late January, won big on Feb. 7, sweeping Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri and putting a huge roadblock in front of Mitt Romney's caravan to the GOP presidential nomination.
"Conservatism is alive and well," Santorum said during his victory speech. "I don't stand here to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."
The former Pennsylvania senator made numerous visits to evangelical gathering places like Colorado Christian University in the days leading up to Feb. 7. He worshipped at a nondenominational megachurch in Eden Prairie, Minn., the Sunday before the caucuses.
Santorum has made social conservatism his campaign centerpiece since the start, and this month many social issues have come to the fore: Komen Foundation vs. Planned Parenthood, California's gay marriage ban, the Obama administration pushing religious institutions to provide abortion pill coverage.
Romney, seeing this social issue surge, began embracing conservative faith rhetoric, but Santorum, a Catholic, has been there all along. He chose a gathering of pastors near Dallas as the place for his first public appearance the day after his victories. "I'm willing to be very public about the role of faith in our society," he told the pastors, who later huddled around Santorum for a laying-on of hands and prayer.
Santorum also benefited from a desire to puncture the sense of inevitability building behind Romney since his Florida and Nevada wins. While Romney took more than 60 percent of the Colorado vote in 2008, he won little more than half of that support this time. No delegates were officially awarded in the Feb. 7 contests, but Santorum has now won more states-four-than any other candidate. Two wins came in states Romney took in 2008.
Santorum will try to use his victories to fundraise and enlarge a staff currently dominated by volunteers. His campaign raised $250,000 online during the three-state election night. Last year, Santorum raised $2.2 million compared to Romney's $56.8 million. Romney will now turn his sizeable cash advantage and formidable organizational infrastructure against Santorum, as he did against the now-slumping Newt Gingrich.
"We haven't seen Santorum in the eye of the storm yet," said University of Colorado political scientist Ken Bickers. "But that storm is brewing and will be coming his way." Santorum says he's ready for the next big battleground, Michigan, the state where Romney's father once served as governor.