Mower picks Santorum

Lindon Anderson organizes representatives from Udolpho township, Waltham, Waltham Township, Dexter and Sargeant Township during the Republican Caucus Tuesday night at the Mower County Senior Center.- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Rick Santorum swept the caucus meetings in Minnesota Tuesday night, throwing a wrench in Mitt Romney’s national campaign and winning large support in Mower County.

“I had a feeling that, just because I ran down through the candidates, I would not be surprised if Santorum did real well in outstate Minnesota,” said Dennis Schminke, Mower County GOP chair.

Schminke said Tuesday night was a great night for the county GOP, as 278 residents voted and at least 300 people attended the meeting in total.

“We had such great numbers and a lot of enthusiasm there,” Schminke said. “It was really gratifying. This far exceeded any expectations we had.”

Minnesota Republicans headed to caucus meetings Tuesday determined to back a candidate who could defeat President Barack Obama in November, handing Santorum a clear victory and at least temporarily shaking up the race for the GOP nomination.

Suzanne McCarthy and Ruth Lumley count ballots in Tuesday night's straw poll at the Republican caucuses at the Mower County Senior Center. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Santorum finished the night sweeping the three states that held primaries, including a decisive win in the non-binding Missouri primary and a stunning win at the Colorado caucuses.

“I want to see Obama replaced,” said Bruce Olson, a retired state employee who attended a caucus meeting in Andover, a suburb northwest of Minneapolis. “How we get there remains to be worked out.”

Santorum emerged in Minnesota as the clear winner early in the evening, comfortably ahead of second-place Ron Paul, with a victory that rewarded a series if visits to Minnesota in the final week. Front-runner Mitt Romney was well back in third, with Newt Gingrich last.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting in Mower County, Santorum claimed 143 votes. Second place went to Ron Paul with 79 votes, followed by Romney with 32, and Gingrich with 21.

Santorum also won easily in Freeborn County.

Bruce Mackenthun, a 38-year-old contractor at a caucus in Shakopee, called Santorum a “consistent conservative” without some of Romney’s negatives and with a better foreign policy than Paul.

“He seems to have a clear message,” Mackenthun said. “He hasn’t had to change it really through the whole campaign.”

The night’s preference ballot doesn’t bind any of the 40 national convention delegates, but it offers plenty of symbolic importance. Coming off back-to-back primary wins in Nevada and Florida, Romney had hoped contests in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado would distance him from the GOP pack.

Romney won the Minnesota caucus in 2008 running as the conservative alternative to John McCain, but this year saw other candidates run to his right. Olson, who said he was open to Santorum or Gingrich, said he had concerns about Romney. “I like Romney OK, but I think he’s a little liberal.”

Ernie Bedor, a 59-year-old insurance agent, spoke in support of Romney during his precinct caucus meeting. “I think Romney, with his business background, would be a better choice to stimulate our economy, get this economy going and create more jobs.”

 

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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