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Rick Santorum sweeps as Mitt Romney plays coy

GOP front-runner not worried about "beauty contest."

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at a rally in Denver on Tuesday night. (Marc Piscotty/AFP/Getty Images)

As Rick Santorum enjoyed his hat trick on Tuesday in the Republican nomination race, Mitt Romney pretended not to notice.

Before the night’s final state was official – Colorado later confirmed it was a Santorum sweep – Romney took the stage in Denver and offered meek congratulations.

"The race is too close to call in Colorado at this point, but I'm pretty confident we'll come in No. 1 or No. 2," Romney said, the L.A. Times reported. "I'm looking for a good showing."

It never arrived.

Santorum burst from the gates on Tuesday, winning 55 per cent of the vote in Missouri, more than double Romney’s 25 per cent. U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas had 12 per cent, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wasn’t on the ballot (he was preparing in Ohio).

The momentum carried into Minnesota for Santorum. The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania earned 45 per cent of the vote with Paul taking 27 per cent and Romney 17. Gingrich was a virtual afterthought at just 11 per cent.

In late results from Colorado, Santorum took more than 40 per cent of votes, while Romney didn't quite capture 35.

More from GlobalPost: Santorum: ‘We can win this race’

The result spins the race in a new direction. Santorum now claims victories in four states, including the recounted result in Iowa. Romney has three wins in Florida, Nevada and New Hampshire, while Gingrich won South Carolina.

With much fanfare in St. Charles, Mo., Santorum told supporters he’s not the best man to beat Romney, he’s the best man to beat President Obama.

“I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” Santorum said, according to the New York Times. “I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”

About the most Romney could manage was that Santorum had a “good night,” Bloomberg reported.

Romney’s choice of words before he learned of the official results took a subtle jab at his GOP foe.

Instead of focusing on Santorum, Romney reminded his supporters and Republicans everywhere it’s President Obama who represents his biggest challenge.

"Under his own definition, President Obama has failed. We will succeed," Romeny said, according to USA Today.

More from GlobalPost: Santorum wins Minnesota, Missouri

While the former Massachusetts governor took the high road – for short periods, at least – his campaign team enjoyed dirtier paths.

Rich Beeson, Romney’s “political director,” issued a statement called The Road Ahead – A Reality Check earlier Tuesday. In it, he repeats Romney’s perceived strengths, including deep pockets and wide appeal.

While the so-called “beauty contests” are good for the ego, nobody earned any of the 1,140 delegates needed to win the race on Tuesday, Beeson said.

“We expect our opponents to notch a few wins,” Beeson’s memo says. “It is difficult to see what Governor Romney’s opponents can do to change the dynamics of the race in February. … Unlike the other candidates, our campaign has the resources and organization to keep winning over the long run.”

More from GlobalPost: Top 5 controversial Santorum quotes

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120208/rick-santorum-sweeps-mitt-romney-plays-coy