Former Senator Rick Santorum defeated front-runner Mitt Romney in the non-binding Republican presidential primary in Missouri, one of three states holding presidential nominating contests on Tuesday. Santorum had about 55 percent of the vote while Romney - who has won three of the first five nominating contests - was in second with 25 percent, with 45 percent of the vote counted, according to the Missouri secretary of state's website. Networks projected Santorum as the winner.Missouri is one of three states holding Republican presidential nominating contests on Tuesday, with Minnesota and Colorado also holding caucuses in the state-by-state battle for the Republican nomination to face President Barack Obama in the November 6 election. Santorum, aiming to reinvigorate his quest for the Republican nomination, also led in Minnesota in early returns. It marked the second victory for Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania who narrowly beat Romney to win Iowa's caucuses on January 3.
The victory gives new hope to Santorum, a staunch social and religious conservative, and new momentum in his battle with former U.S. House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich to be viewed as the top conservative alternative to the more moderate Romney. Gingrich was not on the ballot in Missouri, allowing Santorum the chance to consolidate conservative voters in the state and compete directly with Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and U.S. congressman Ron Paul, known for his libertarian views.
Santorum has made his strong positions on social issues a centerpiece of his bid and is hoping his staunch opposition to gay marriage and abortion will help win over conservatives wary of Romney because of moderate positions he took while running for office in liberal Massachusetts.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday that has Romney ahead in the race nationally with 29 percent showed Santorum's support has gained by 5 percentage points in the last month, to 18 percent. That put him in a virtual tie with Gingrich, at 19 percent, and Paul, who was at 21 percent.