One thing is certain in the wake of Tuesday night's primary contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri - Rick Santorum should be taken seriously as a contender for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.
The former Pennsylvania senator won a resounding victory in Minnesota, where with 83 percent of precincts reporting he garnered 45 percent of the vote. Texas Rep. Ron Paul came in a strong second with 27 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney placed third with 17 percent, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailed with 11 percent.
The results were somewhat closer in Colorado, with Santorum taking 38 percent to Romney's 35 percent, while Paul and Gingrich jockeyed for third place, each with roughly 13 percent. Santorum's win in Missouri was largely symbolic, because the state's delegates are not bound by Tuesday's vote when they meet for their official caucus in March.
But Tuesday's results should serve as a clear indicator to the Republican candidates that this race is really just getting started, with many more laps to go. Upcoming primaries or caucuses are slated for Maine on Saturday, Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28, and Washington on March 3. Not to mention the sprint to Super Tuesday on March 6, with contests in 10 states - Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia - with a one-day prize of 437 delegates up for grabs.
Whether Santorum is able to capitalize on his Tuesday victories and build up enough momentum and financial support to outpace Romney and Gingrich remains to be seen, as does Paul's ability to ultimately emerge as something more than an "underdog candidate."
However, it clearly is too soon to declare the contest for the Republican nomination to be a two-man race.