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Santorum, Paul look beyond Nevada caucuses

Republicans Rick Santorum and Ron Paul looked beyond Saturday's presidential caucuses in Nevada, eyeing contests further down the nominating calendar and signaling the results were unlikely to change their strategy in a race that seemed to have become a two-man contest between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich

Santorum told Republicans on the Western Slope that Colorado was "a wide-open state" and urged voters to support him in Tuesday's upcoming contest. Paul, meanwhile, kept a watchful eye on Colorado even as he campaigned in Minnesota, another state that meets Tuesday for the latest round of GOP contests that seem to shuffle the race on a regular basis. 

"This isn't a state where someone has a natural advantage," Santorum said in Montrose, before flying on to events in Loveland and Greeley. "No one can stake a claim and say, `He's going to win this state.' This is a wide-open race and you have an opportunity to reset this race." 

Santorum, declared the winner of Iowa's leadoff caucuses last month but likely to face a fourth consecutive loss Saturday in Nevada, planned to head to Minnesota for a busy day on Sunday. 

Paul, too, was campaigning in Minnesota. Speaking before a few hundred people at a Rochester high school, Paul said his economic ideas are penetrating and a strong showing in Minnesota and other upcoming states will send a strong signal that Americans are fed up with tepid change and government as it is. 

"The one thing that is on our side is the American people are waking up," he said in a speech frequently interrupted by applause and standing ovations. 

Yet Paul was keeping close tabs on Nevada, where he placed second in 2008 behind Romney. 

The Texas congressman is hoping for an outright win this time. Advisers believe 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's spent $371,000, according to the Smart Media Group which tracks political advertising. Newt Gingrich's campaign did not advertise at all on television in Nevada and Santorum placed only a $12,000 cable buy. 

Santorum has vowed to continue his race until the Republicans meet in Tampa for their nominating contest, and Paul has shown no interest in shutting down his libertarian-leaning campaign that still draws enthusiastic crowds of fervent supporters. 

Romney and Gingrich, meanwhile, were fighting in Nevada for the first contest in the West. The tone of the campaign had turned caustic in recent days, all the while Santorum built giant crowds. 

He spent Friday in Missouri, which has also has a primary Tuesday that lacks Gingrich's name on the ballot and does not award delegates. 

Santorum also sought to undercut Romney's argument he is most electable because he has the most money and strongest organization. Santorum, who raised $1 million online in recent days, said no one will be able to go tit-for-tat with President Barack Obama

"Folks, he's not going to have the most money in the general election. Barack Obama's going to have more money. .... (Romney) is going to be outspent badly. Any Republican will be," he said.
Santorum also said Gingrich's speaking skills -- "Newt can throw out some funny lines," Santorum conceded -- alone wouldn't be enough to go up against Obama's re-election. 

"If you're a swing voter, who are you going to believe?" Santorum said. "America is not looking for well-oiled weather vanes. They are looking for leaders."