Santorum Victories in Minnesota, Missouri Boost Campaign

Updated: 11:53 p.m.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum notched two symbolic wins in Missouri and Minnesota nominating contests tonight.

Neither the Missouri primary nor the Minnesota caucus will award delegates, but the pair of victories gave a much-needed publicity boost to Santorum’s campaign.

In a victory speech from St. Charles, Mo., Santorum cast himself as the best candidate to take on President Barack Obama.

“I don’t stand here to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” he said to applause. “I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”

He criticized Obama’s positions on bank bailouts, the 2010 health care overhaul, and cap and trade, noting that Romney has held similar positions on those issues.

Santorum was aided by the fact that former Speaker Newt Gingrich was not on the ballot in Missouri, helping him garner 55 percent of the vote with 80 percent of precincts reporting.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, had 25 percent.

In a speech in Denver, Romney congratulated Santorum and said he still expects to win the upcoming primaries and caucuses.

“I look forward to the contest to come,” he said.

Santorum was also doing well in Minnesota, with 46 percent of the vote with 33 percent of precincts reporting. Texas Rep. Ron Paul came in second there, with 27 percent of the vote.

The wins give Santorum’s campaign a big public push as an alternative to Romney, who has taken pains in recent days to present himself as an unstoppable frontrunner in the presidential primary.

Colorado is also holding a nonbinding caucus tonight.