Rick Santorum addresses college in Colorado_390.
(photo credit: Rick Wilking/Reuters)
DENVER - Republican candidate Rick Santorum is gunning for a victory in at least one of the three states holding presidential nominating contests on Tuesday in an attempt to slow down front-runner Mitt Romney and revive his fading White House hopes.
The former US senator from Pennsylvania narrowly won Iowa on Jan. 3 but his drive to become the main conservative alternative to the more moderate Romney has not played out the way he had hoped. He has had weak showings in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada.
Tuesday may give him a modest boost. Colorado and Minnesota hold Republican caucuses in the state-by-state battle to decide on the party's challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 presidential election. Missouri holds what amounts to a non-binding "beauty contest."
Pollsters said Santorum was leading in Minnesota and was second to Romney in Colorado.
A victory on Tuesday would revive Santorum's hopes and enable him to make the case to fundraisers that his campaign remains viable, and allow him to compete with former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich as the main Romney alternative.
Santorum was not predicting victory.
"Winning would be great, but doing well and showing that ... we still have a strong base of support out there is going to be good enough for us," he told CNN on Monday.
Romney's campaign acknowledged the race was close in Minnesota but believed the former Massachusetts governor could absorb a loss without a whole lot of damage.
Even so, Romney's campaign attempted to remind voters of Santorum's penchant for seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in government grants for his home state when he was a senator, a practice conservatives see as wasteful spending.
"We need a next president who's been strong and proven in fiscal and spending matters," said Romney supporter Tim Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota. Pawlenty endorsed Romney after dropping out of the race himself last year.
Romney spent Monday campaigning in Colorado after winning the Nevada caucuses by a wide margin on Saturday.
At an evening event in Centennial, Romney joined a conservative outcry over a portion of Obama's healthcare overhaul that will force Catholic schools, hospitals and charities to provide insurance for their employees covering contraception even if though it violates the church's teachings.
"This is a violation of conscience. We must have a president who is willing to respect America's first right, our right to worship God," Romney told a large crowd at Arapahoe High School.
Santorum also has a good chance in Missouri, where Gingrich is not even on the ballot, although the vote there is just symbolic because there are no delegates up for grabs in the non-binding vote.
Missouri delegates will be won in mid-March in the binding portion of a two-step process caused by changes in the Republican primary calendar as states vied with one another to hold early nominating contests.