U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum swept the Kansas caucuses on Saturday with 53 percent of the vote, giving him a boost going into crucial primary votes in the South next week.

With 83 percent of votes counted, the conservative former senator from Pennsylvania was well ahead of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with 17 percent, and former House of Representative Speaker Newt Gingrich with 15 percent, CNN said.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul had 13 percent.

The win gives Santorum bragging rights ahead of the more contested races next week in Alabama and Mississippi, where with further victories he could solidify his status as the conservative alternative to front-runner Romney.

Winning Kansas' value is in not dropping the ball, said Ruy Teixeira, political analyst at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Santorum visited the flat plains and rolling hills of Kansas more than any other candidate, appearing at rallies on Wednesday and Friday.

(Additional reporting by Aruna Viswanatha in Washington; Editing by Philip Barbara)