Rick Santorum surprised the political establishment by handily winning Colorado’s GOP Presidential caucuses last night. In fact, the former Senator swept all of Tuesday’s contests, winning in Missouri and Minnesota as well. The victories gave some much needed momentum to Santorum’s once fading campaign.  Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus has this report.


This is a transcript of Markus’ report:


Reporter Ben Markus: Just when it seemed like Mitt Romney had a lock on the Republican nomination, one of his rivals delivered another plot twist.


Mitt Romney: This was a good night for Rick Santorum. 


Reporter: Romney took to the stage last night in downtown Denver knowing that Santorum had beaten him in Missouri and Minnesota. 


Romney: I want to congratulate Senator Santorum, wish him the very best. We’ll keep on campaigning down the road, but I expect to become our nominee with your help. (Sound of cheering)


Reporter: Hours later, it was announced that he had lost Colorado, a state he won easily in 2008. Santorum took more than 40% of the vote to Romney’s 35%. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul finished a distant third and fourth, respectively. State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call emphasized that last night’s caucuses are only the first step in a complicated delegate selection process, but that matters little now.


Ryan Call: For now it’s all about headlines, and the headline for tonight: A Big Win for Senator Rick Santorum.


Reporter: Call said that, not surprisingly, Santorum had his strongest showing in counties where he campaigned - Larimer, Weld, and El Paso County. Compared to Santorum, Romney campaigned little in the state.


Call: The Romney campaign, I think, came into the state a little bit later. Rick Santorum spent a lot of time in Colorado. Really tried to, did a lot of events, a lot of person-to-person kind of engagement, and that mattered in this campaign.


Reporter: He added turnout was strong despite cold and sometimes snowy weather. 65,000 voters came to the caucuses, down slightly from 2008. At a caucus at the Day Spring Christian School in Greeley, Angie Sickler said she supported Santorum because she says Romney can’t be trusted. 


Angie Sickler: Mitt Romney has been a liar, time and time again. I hate to say it, he’s said things, then gone back on them and said something different, and he’s not consistent.


Reporter: At Arapahoe High School in Centennial, caucus goers favored Romney by a slim margin. The former Massachusetts governor did well in Denver metro counties. Margaret Brennan said she was voting for Romney, despite his flaws.


Margaret Brennan: There never is a perfect candidate, never ever a perfect candidate. 


Reporter: She said she agrees more with Santorum’s conservative stance on social issues, but ...


Brennan: He’s not as electable. It’s all about the independent voters, and so I’m being very pragmatic. I love him, but he’s not electable, Romney is.


Reporter: But the results Tuesday night threw that into question. Santorum supporter Kyle Dennehy from Centennial didn’t care if the former Senator could actually win the nomination or not.


Kyle Dennehy: You’ve got to make these other guys, you know, work for it, rather than just giving ‘em a free vote. That’s the way I am anyways.


Reporter: He says he’ll vote for whomever the eventual nominee is. And now the prospects for his candidate look much brighter than at the beginning of the evening.  Dennehy added that, whether or not Santorum wins, he’ll have an impact on the race.


Dennehy: Who knows? Maybe he might be, if he doesn’t get elected, maybe he’s a candidate for Vice President as well, so, you know obviously if he doesn’t win, whoever he endorses will have a key influence on what my decision will be in the future.


Reporter: Santorum gets to enjoy his new status as a serious contender for the nomination for awhile. There isn’t another primary or caucus for three weeks.

[Photo: CPR/Ben Markus]