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Santorum rolls over competition in Louisiana primary



This news story was published on March 25, 2012.
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By John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times –

NEW ORLEANS — Rick Santorum won handily in Louisiana’s Republican presidential primary Saturday, solidfying his position as Mitt Romney’s last credible challenger as the campaign heads into states that will test whether Santorum can broaden his appeal to less conservative voters.

The former Pennsylvania senator had been expected to win, but campaigned heavily in this Deep South state, seeking to widen his margin over Romney and reinforce his message that he is a trustworthy conservative while Romney is a politician with erasable Etch-A-Sketch views.

“The people in Louisiana sent a loud and clear message: This race is long and far from over,” Santorum said in brief remarks at a low-key celebration in a microbrewery in Green Bay, his fourth campaign appearance Saturday in Wisconsin, a state that is critical to his insurgent campaign.

Earlier, at a stop in Bellevue, Santorum joked about Romney’s imminent defeat. “After you’ve outspent your opponent about 50 to 1, and you still can’t put the race away, at some point, you may want to say, ‘Well, you know, maybe I can’t win after all,’” Santorum said.

With his double-digit victory in Louisiana, Santorum can claim to have the momentum again. But Romney’s second-place finish does little to dampen his drive to the nomination. Only 20 delegates were at stake in Saturday’s primary. Santorum appeared likely to win 10, while Romney could pick up 5.

Romney has an enormous lead in delegates, but still must reach 1,144 to assure him the nomination on the first ballot. Santorum has angrily dismissed the delegate counts as “Romney math,” arguing that they are based on mistaken assumptions.

Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman, dismissed the win as insignificant. “Rick Santorum is like a football team celebrating a field goal when they are losing by seven touchdowns with less than a minute left in the game,” he said.

But Romney called Santorum and congratulated him as he sat down for a burger, fries and Dark Helmet Schwartzbier. Santorum, surrounded by television cameras, told Romney he would be visiting California soon to raise money. “Probably not as much fundraising as you are,” he said. “But a little fundraising for us. So good luck to you, and thank you so much for calling, Mitt.”

Last week, Romney picked up the endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who many Republicans still wish had decided to run. On Friday, Gallup’s tracking poll showed Romney with 40 percent support among Republican voters nationwide, the first time any candidate has reached that threshold. He now leads Santorum by 14 percentage points.

Romney spent little time in Louisiana, making stops in the north and south Friday, criticizing President Barack Obama’s health care reform at a Metairie shopping mall and his energy policies at a natural gas well in Shreveport. He did not campaign Saturday and held no election party.

Newt Gingrich came in third, followed by Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Gingrich appeared to fall short of winning any delegates. His poor showing in Louisiana after he came in second behind Santorum in Alabama and Mississippi could increase calls for him to pull out. The former House speaker has only won two states, Georgia and South Carolina.

Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress, had been counting on the Deep South for a boost. But Santorum, a devout Catholic with a strong pro-life record, became the favored candidate of the South’s evangelical Christians.

George Bucher, who works in health insurance, was one of several voters in Metairie, west of New Orleans, who said they wished Gingrich still had a chance, but abandoned him because he is too far behind. “I think he’s got too much baggage, and he just cannot make up the gap,” said the 52-year-old, who, like the other erstwhile Gingrich supporters, chose to vote for Santorum.

In Shreveport, Michael Nash, 38, watched his son play in a T-ball game, describing the scene as “good old conservative values.” He said he would vote for Santorum even though he expected Romney would win the nomination. “Before Mitt shakes up his Etch-A-Sketch again for November, he needs to know he needs to represent conservatives like us,” he said.

Lynne North, a 74-year-old retired paralegal who was voting in Metairie, said, “We like Romney, and we like what he stands for.” But her husband, Donald Masinter, 78, a retired salesman, said he didn’t really know why he voted for Romney. North suggested, “I think he is more well-rounded.” But Masinter replied, “I really didn’t like anybody that much.”

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