U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum appears poised for a campaign boost with a strong showing in two of Tuesday's nominating caucuses.
The former senator from Pennsylvania has a solid initial lead in Minnesota, earning 43 percent of the vote with about six percent of precincts reporting. And his early lead in Missouri is even greater at 54 percent with nearly a quarter of the votes counted.
Mitt Romney, who had been hoping to solidify his front-runner status in Tuesday's contests, is more than 20 points behind Santorum in Missouri and lagging in third place in Minnesota.
The former Massachusetts governor may be helped by voters in Colorado, however, where Tuesday's caucus results have not yet been posted. Romney won the state by a large margin when he ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and was expected to win again Tuesday.
A total of 70 delegates are up for grabs in the Colorado and Minnesota, although they will be awarded later at district and state conventions. Missouri's primary is non-binding, with no delegates at stake.
To be selected to face Mr. Obama, a Republican needs to have the support of 1,144 delegates at the Republican nominating convention in Florida in August. To date, Romney has a reported 101 committed delegates, Gingrich 32, Santorum 17 and Paul 9.
Despite Romney's wins in the primaries in Florida, Nevada, and New Hampshire, a new poll Tuesday indicated Republican support for him nationwide has fallen during the past month. In the Reuters/Ipsos telephone survey conducted this month, 29 percent of Republican voters backed Romney, down one percent from a survey in early January. The latest survey showed Texas Congressman Ron Paul's support growing by 5 percent to 21 percent, putting him in second place ahead of former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich ((with 19 percent)). Santorum also saw a 5 percent rise in support to land close behind Gingrich ((with 18 percent)).
The Reuters news agency says the results suggest Romney still has many doubters among Republicans.
Gingrich, once considered Romney's top rival for the nomination, held a large lead in the Colorado polls late last year. But he has since lost ground in that state and was focusing his attention Tuesday on Ohio, as the state begins early voting ahead of its primary on March 6. Gingrich has vowed to fight all the way to the August nominating convention.
Meanwhile, Paul holds an election event in Minnesota Tuesday night.
In a hypothetical election match-up, an ABC News-Washington Post poll indicates President Obama would beat Romney. The survey shows Mr. Obama ahead 51 percent to 45 percent among registered voters and 52 percent to 43 percent among all Americans. The poll found that half of those surveyed approve of President Obama's job performance and believe he deserves a second term.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday found Mr. Obama's approval rating is up one percent from the January survey to reach 48 percent, but his disapproval rating is the same at 49 percent.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.