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Politics

Santorum, Paul campaign out West as Florida votes

LONE TREE, Colo. (AP) — Certain to lose in Florida, Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Ron Paul courted voters Tuesday in Western states that hold upcoming contests — and made clear they’re not bowing out.

‘‘No matter what happens in Florida, this race is wide open,’’ Santorum said in this town outside of Denver, casting the fight for the GOP nomination as a long slog. ‘‘We plan on being in this campaign for a while.’’

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In a separate appearance, Paul completely ignored Florida’s primary Tuesday as he spoke to more than 1,000 supporters in Fort Collins, many of them students at Colorado State University. Instead, the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman focused on his bedrock issues: cutting spending and upholding the Constitution.

‘‘All we have to do is return to our constitutional form of government, and we can get out of this mess in no time,’’ said Paul, garnering loud cheers for a blast at U.S. foreign policy. ‘‘We need to keep America safe, but not to be the policeman of the world.’’

Both candidates started the day in Colorado, which holds its caucuses on Feb. 7, and were ending it in Nevada, which holds caucuses Saturday.

‘‘You’re going to hear Gov. Romney’s going to win Florida. You’re going to hear the race is over,’’ Santorum told tea partyers in Las Vegas as early tallies started to be released in Florida. ‘‘But the race is just getting started. It’s going to go back and forth.’’

The topsy-turvy Republican presidential race has crowned three winners in the first three states, and Florida’s race had become a two-man contest between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Conceding the costly, large and diverse state to them, Santorum and Paul headed West to try to lay the groundwork for upcoming contests.

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‘‘If you don’t like the way the race is going right now, just wait a week or two,’’ Santorum told a 300-person crowd at a golf club in the Denver suburb of Lone Tree. ‘‘You have a chance to change this race. You have a chance to put up a conservative who can win.’’

Santorum raised more than $4 million since his surprise showing in Iowa, and aides said he had more than $1 million in the bank. He started spending some of that on television ads in Colorado and Nevada with an ad that likened Gingrich’s views to President Barack Obama and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

‘‘Who are these three cap and trade-loving, bailout-supporting, soft-on-immigration, big government-mandating politicians?’’ the announcer asks in the minute-long ad.

Yet in person, Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, said criticism of Romney and Gingrich wealth was misguided and only helps Democrats, but then turned caustic.

‘‘We cannot have leaders who are unpredictable or lack the conviction to do what’s necessary,’’ he said of Gingrich.

Two voters raised Gingrich’s infidelity and one asked Santorum to make a campaign issue out of Gingrich’s three marriages.

Santorum said Gingrich had been open about his past but allowed that ‘‘character matters.’’

‘‘It’s the issue of trust. Do you trust somebody who has done things that you question, whether it’s in their personal life or professional life?’’ he asked.

But he also said people can learn from their mistakes.

‘‘Our job is to forgive people if they ask for forgiveness,’’ Santorum said. ‘‘I don’t question the sincerity of his repentance.’’

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