STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Republican Rick Santorum is back.
After four straight losses to Mitt Romney, the former Pennsylvania senator won at least two states — Oklahoma and Tennessee — on Super Tuesday. He was in strong command in North Dakota and was aggressively challenging Romney in the night's marquee race in Ohio.
Even before all the states were decided, it was clear that Santorum's position as Romney's chief Republican opponent was still intact.
"This was a big night tonight," Santorum told cheering supporters at a local high school. "We have won in the West, the Midwest and the South, and we're ready to win across this country."
The victories, which come as 10 states held elections from Alaska to Vermont, gave the Santorum campaign a badly needed shot of momentum. Romney was coming off a four-state win streak and had won Tuesday in Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia, with a handful of races too close to call.
Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia.
Santorum's victories in two southern states seemed to be enough to fuel his underdog campaign, despite increasingly calls for the candidates to rally around front-runner Romney. But a victory in Ohio could reshuffle the Republican contest, sending a powerful message that Romney's grasp on his party's nomination is by no means assured.
"Tonight it's clear. It's clear. We've won races all over this country against the odds," Santorum said. "When they thought, 'Oh, OK, he's finally finished,' we keep coming back. We are in this thing."
An unapologetic social conservative, Santorum has cast the race in biblical terms: He's David vs. Romney's Goliath. Even that "is probably a little bit of an understatement," Santorum said Monday.
The former senator from neighboring Pennsylvania has a shell of a campaign in Ohio, with no state headquarters and a bare-bones staff. In Romney he faced a challenger who enjoys a massive cash advantage and a political machine that's produced high-stakes victories in other states when his front-runner status was in doubt.
Santorum celebrated in Steubenville, an eastern Ohio town just a 90-minute drive from his own Pennsylvania hometown.Comment on this story
Earlier in the day, he delivered an in-person address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference in Washington. He immediately criticized Tuesday's offer by the U.S., European countries, Russia and China to resume talks with Iran on its suspected nuclear weapons program, calling it "another appeasement, another delay, another opportunity for them to go forward while we talk."
Speaking Tuesday night with his 93-year-old mother at his side, Santorum largely set aside his aggressive social agenda and focused instead on his family's blue-collar roots.
"Not too many presidential candidates come to Steubenville, Ohio, much less hold their victory party in Steubenville, Ohio," he said. "This is our roots."