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Santorum wins Kansas caucuses

By John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times –

WICHITA, Kan. — Rick Santorum has won the Kansas Republican caucuses, according to The Associated Press and network projections, his eighth statewide victory in the GOP presidential nomination battle.

The victory for Santorum was expected. Aside from the former Pennsylvania senator, only Ron Paul seriously contested the state. Forty total delegates are at stake, and will be awarded based on both statewide and congressional district results.

Santorum won three contests earlier in the week on Super Tuesday, though he lost the most fiercely contested battle of the day in Ohio to Mitt Romney.

Though Romney holds a strong delegate advantage overall, he is unlikely to clinch the nomination anytime soon. He admitted that contests this Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi are “road games” — more favorable terrain for Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Hawaii also holds caucuses Tuesday.

The former Massachusetts governor did, however, win delegates in island territories. Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands both went for Romney on Saturday, where a combined 18 delegates were at stake.

Santorum’s strength in Kansas overall — he was leading in all but one of the counties that had reported results as of 2:30 p.m. CST — was reflected in his overwhelming victory in the state’s biggest caucus.

In Sedgwick County, he won 1,640 votes, or 55.6 percent, trouncing his competitors in the race for the nomination and suggesting he may pick up all of the state’s 40 delegates if similar results are repeated in the other 95 caucuses.

Sedgwick County GOP officials said 2,978 voters cast ballots during the three-hour caucus, which is about the same number from the county as four years ago.

Paul finished second with 526 votes, or 17.8 percent, followed by Mitt Romney with 392 votes, or 13.3percent, and Newt Gingrich with 340 votes, or 11.5 percent.

Republican officials across the state were counting ballots after voting ended at 1 p.m. CST. In Wichita, about 30 party workers, most wearing red shirts, counted the ballots by hand.

In Sedgwick County, there was just one caucus held at the Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center, making it the largest in the state. Voters filled out paper ballots and dropped them through holes cut in boxes wrapped in white paper and red tape. Blue pens were provided by Faith Maughan, a candidate for judge.

To get to the ballot boxes, Sedgwick County Republicans had to first brave a phalanx of Paul’s supporters, who were waving signs, urging them to vote for liberty, and ominously warning, “Santorum wants to force you to wear sweater vests for the rest of your life.”

Jody Dendurent, a 40-year-old civil engineer, voted for Santorum, who is hoping that a strong Kansas victory will propel him to wins this coming week in Alabama and Mississippi.

“I trust that when he makes a decision he’s going to No. 1 look for God for wisdom,” Dendurent said, explaining that she likes his views on abortion, the Constitution and the dignity of women. “I think that comes through from his personal life, the way he treats his wife,” she said.

Betty Morgan, a retired administrative assistant for Wichita, first supported U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, then businessman Herman Cain and finally Santorum.

The 68-year-old said that she sides with Santorum on his support for limiting government, ending what she calls “Obamacare,” paying down the federal debt and reforming the income tax. “He believes in an issue and he stands with it,” she said. “I believe I can trust him.”

Paul’s libertarian views also appealed to many Kansans.

Mark Gray, who works in a Christian ministry, voted for Paul. “He seems to be the candidate with the most integrity,” he said. “It didn’t seem like there was much competition there.” The 63-year-old said the Texas congressman has never compromised his views. “I haven’t known him to disqualify himself by the track record he has as a politician,” he said.

Deborah Montgomery, 24, a student teacher, voted for Paul this year, just as she did in 2008, saying that she finds him to be genuine, unlike other candidates who strike her as actors. “I don’t agree with everything, but he speaks to my heart,” she said, explaining that Paul’s earnest devotion to restoring liberties and reducing government touch her deeply.

Unlike Paul, though, she is pro-choice, but she said that he does not try to force his religious beliefs on people. “Until I ran for president,” she said, “I have to make compromises.”

Tuesday was the first election for Mitchell Meyer, an 18-year-old high school student, who decided to vote for Romney because he believes he is the most likely to beat Obama. “I think he’s more electable,” he said. He added, however, that abortion was the most important issue to him and knows that Santorum, a Catholic like he is, shares his views. But he said he does not believe Santorum can win. “A lot of people view Rick Santorum as a radical,” he said.

Kevin and Lorraine Hall voted for Gingrich, saying that the former House speaker is the only candidate who has the experience needed to tackle the nation’s problems.

“I think he’s been there. He knows the game. He knows how to make it work,” said Kevin Hall, a 53-year-old truck driver who was wearing a Declaration of Independence T-shirt. “There’s too many of them out there who are just playing the game.”

But Lorraine Hall, who was wearing an “Old Glory” T-shirt, said she believes the world sees Gingrich as a statesman, but she fears he may be too damaged to win. “I don’t know if the media’s torn him up enough to succeed,” she said.

———

(Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report from Washington.)

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