Santorum, Paul look past Nevada caucuses

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By BRIAN BAKST and PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press

MONTROSE, Colo. (AP) — Rick Santorum said Saturday he wants to "endanger" rival Newt Gingrich while presidential rival Ron Paul claimed to have "reason to be optimistic" heading into Tuesday's contests as both Republican hopefuls peered ahead past the Nevada caucuses that handed both defeat.

Santorum and Paul both campaigned outside of Nevada and instead eyed upcoming contests in Minnesota and Colorado, signaling neither was likely to change his strategy in a race that seemed to have become a two-man contest between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Gingrich, the former House speaker. With intense rhetoric, both Santorum and Paul assailed Washington in the hopes the topsy-turvy contest for the Republican nomination would yield yet another reshuffling just a month into voting.

"If you're a swing voter, who are you going to believe?" Santorum said to a crowd packed into a hotel ballroom here on Colorado's Western Slope. "America is not looking for well-oiled weather vanes. They are looking for leaders."

In Chanhassen, Minn., Paul said the state's caucus system "rewards people who believe in something."

"We have reason to be optimistic about not only our future, but maybe we have optimism about Tuesday's election too," Paul said with a grin as he looked out at a couple hundred people wedged into a car collector club lounge.

Paul didn't mention President Barack Obama or any of his GOP competitors by name, diving instead into a lecture about a need to protect personal liberties, revive the gold standard, abolish the Federal Reserve and shift to a less-interventionist foreign policy.

"Our problems are a lot longer than 3 years old. They've been going on for a long time," Paul said, aiming his barbs at President Woodrow Wilson instead of Obama during an appearance in Rochester, Minn.

Paul is building off a decent base of support in Minnesota, where he drew nearly 16 percent of the 2008 vote. Organizers were holding "practice caucuses" during his weekend events in Minnesota. He's banking on help from anti-war Republicans and tea party members.

Santorum, meanwhile, was heading to Minnesota late Saturday after the Nevada caucus results were announced. He planned a full day on Sunday, including a church visit and a stop at the factory that produces the sweater vests his campaign sells for $100 each to raise money.

What he lacks in organization, he is hoping to supplement with sharper criticism.

Santorum's strategy has been to bloody Gingrich, outlast his one-time ally and then emerge as the eventual alternative to front-runner Romney. He also looked to have a strong showing Tuesday in Missouri, which is having a non-binding primary that lacks Gingrich's name on the ballot. Santorum said he hoped the head-to-head matchup with Romney would change the narrative of his sagging fortunes.

Opening his day, Santorum told Republicans here that Washington has gone too far in its environmental policies, especially here in the West. He said overreaching environmental regulators were trampling on ranchers with a Washington-knows-best approach.

"'We'll make sure that you don't do something to scar the land or endanger a newt,'" Santorum said. "No, not that Newt. I want to endanger that Newt. That's a different story."

It wasn't going to happen in Nevada, though.

Romney, as expected, captured the Nevada winner's medal, and Santorum urged Republicans in conservative Weld County, Colo., at a Lincoln Day dinner to give his campaign one last shot.

"I ask you to reset this race. Create an opportunity for someone who can speak to Americans about what America is all about," Santorum pleaded at the same hour it became clear Romney was the victor in Nevada.

And he showed no signs of relenting on Romney or Gingrich, even as he appeared at a county GOP fundraiser as results became clear.

"Here are two candidates that are not just compromised but will be slammed even bringing up those issues. Why would you do this? ... Why would the Republican Party nominate candidates with those positions?"

Paul, meanwhile, kept close tabs on Nevada, where he placed second in 2008 behind Romney. The Texas congressman had hoped for an outright win this time. Advisers had hoped the state's independent, live-and-let-live ethos is receptive to Paul's libertarian message and that his band of diehard supporters can be counted on to show up at the caucuses.

Paul's campaign has spent $350,000 on television ads in Nevada, just behind Romney who spent $371,000, according to the Smart Media Group which tracks political advertising. Newt Gingrich did not advertise on television in Nevada and Santorum placed only a $12,000 cable buy.

"We just don't have those resources," Santorum conceded.

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Bakst reported from Minnesota. Associated Press writer Beth Fouhy in Nevada contributed to this report.

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