Rick Santorum Swinging for a Double

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Rick Santorum could be the latest candidate to regain momentum in the Republican primary carousel as he's shown resilience in a state that has a huge Mitt Romney backer and in another state that is staging a "beauty contest."

There is a good likelihood that either Minnesota or Missouri, or both, could tip in Santorum's favor by late Tuesday night as the former Pennsylvania senator's message seems to have finally resonated for the first time since his Iowa caucus victory.

Rick Santorum

"It's nice when you are on the front-end of some attacks coming from the perceived front-runner in this race," a Santorum operative in Missouri said in an interview. "We're going to do well in the states where the Reagan Democrats are very strong."

Romney's campaign targeted Santorum almost immediately after the former Massachusetts governor's Nevada caucus victory as it became more apparent that Minnesota was leaning in Santorum's favor and that Missouri was shaping up to be a close race.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- who joined Romney's campaign shortly after he dropped from the race -- held a conference call on Monday to criticize Santorum's record on pork-barrel spending and earmarks, but Pawlenty merely fueled speculation that things didn't look so promising in his home state for the front-runner.

"I can't tell you who's gonna come out on top, but I think ... it will be packed together," Pawlenty said in the call. "I think Mitt will be competitive, but it's hard to tell who's gonna be the person on the top of that pack."

Another Santorum operative said in an interview that Romney had been cancelling events in Minnesota and ramping up the Colorado appearances on his schedule. The two latest Colorado polls showed the former governor with double-digit leads, but inside the Santorum camp they've said it could be considered a solid showing if Santorum cuts into the 60% of votes Romney received there in 2008.

Santorum's lead in Minnesota jumped to a nine-percentage-point advantage from just two percentage points between polls released Monday and Tuesday. A Romney win in Colorado and a Santorum victory in Minnesota would leave all eyes on Missouri.

But skepticism could swell around the relevancy of Missouri's non-binding primary, where no delegates are at stake. The state will hold a binding caucus on March 17, which will count toward delegate placing for the 2012 Republican convention. Tuesday's so-called beauty contest won't even include Newt Gingrich on the ballot; however, he will be an eligible option for the state's caucus date.

Gingrich's camp sent an email to reporters Monday that provided a link to a Business Insider story that outlined why Missouri's Republican primary "won't even count." The move seemed like a campaign tactic intended to trivialize the importance of the race, but Gingrich still came out and told Fox News that Tuesday is "going to be a good day for Santorum and a relatively bad day for Romney."

Santorum insiders said that Tuesday's Missouri race is about taking the headline and the perception it could convey to Republican voters who prefer a conservative Romney alternative.

"Technically speaking, you're right, there are no delegates at stake here tomorrow, but it shows that there is another option and it forces the media and folks to look around and say, 'Hey, look, instead of Gingrich, this Santorum team is one to be reckoned with,'" the Santorum Missouri operative said.

Maybe so, but Romney hasn't conceded Missouri or Minnesota and he's a virtual lock to win Colorado. Even if Santorum wins the states he's favored in, the two candidates could still emerge Tuesday with the same number of delegates -- which would make Santorum's big day a wash in the overall delegate count.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

>Contact by Email.

>Follow Joe Deaux on Twitter. Subscribe on Facebook.

More from Politics

It's Just Not Smart For Investors to Ignore the Threat of a Trade War

It's Just Not Smart For Investors to Ignore the Threat of a Trade War

Decision on AT&T's Merger With Time Warner Marks a Monumental Week for M&A

Decision on AT&T's Merger With Time Warner Marks a Monumental Week for M&A

Flashback Friday in Politics: Trade Wars, Manafort, Immigration Dominate Minds

Flashback Friday in Politics: Trade Wars, Manafort, Immigration Dominate Minds

China Announces Plans to Impose Tariffs on Some U.S. Goods

China Announces Plans to Impose Tariffs on Some U.S. Goods