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Rick Santorum scores another victory in Minnesota caucuses

Rick Santorum

scored another victory Tuesday night in Minnesota's caucuses, fueling the former Pennsylvania senator's case that he is the leading conservative alternative to

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Mitt Romney

in the

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GOP
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race.

In 2008, when it was a "Super Tuesday" state, Romney carried Minnesota by nearly 20 points over

John McCain

and

Mike Huckabee

. Preliminary returns showed the former Massachusetts governor actually in third place tonight, behind Santorum and Texas

Rep. Ron Paul

.

Forty delegates will ultimately be allocated by Minnesota Republicans. But like Colorado, the state's caucuses are only the start of that process. Congressional district conventions will be in mid-April, and the state convention is on May 5.

Still, Santorum can lay claim to a swath of the heartland, with victories also in Iowa's caucuses and the Missouri "beauty contest" primary.

The Romney campaign has downplayed the significance of Tuesday's votes, arguing that he "is not going to win every contest."

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"Unlike the other candidates, our campaign has the resources and organization to keep winning over the long run," political director Rich Beeson wrote in a memo to reporters Tuesday. "Even 'success' in a few states will not mean collecting enough delegates to win the nomination."

Two former Republican presidential hopefuls from Minnesota --

Tim Pawlenty

and

Michele Bachmann

-- failed to stay in the race long enough to contest their home state.

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