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Santorum hopes to add Louisiana to win column

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |   March 18, 2012 at 6:01 AM   |   Comments

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The twisted road to the Republican presidential nomination -- thanks in part to the party's decision to apportion delegates in the March primaries and caucuses -- runs through Louisiana Saturday, giving the state a higher profile than in primaries past.

"I can't remember another presidential nominating process in the last 20 years where Louisiana has had as much relevance as we do this year," Jason Dore, state GOP executive director, told The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune.

The Louisiana primary is the only political game in play Saturday. After a 10-day break, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Wisconsin conduct their primaries April 3.

Even with spotlight on the state, the blizzard of television ads, literature drops, robocalls or town meetings that have blanketed other states such as Illinois, which has its primary Tuesday, has been largely absent in the Louisiana run-up.

"I don't think people are really engaged in the presidential process at this point," said state Rep. Tony Ligi of Kenner, a Republican working with Mitt Romney. "Each Republican candidate has core supporters here. But for all that it's a very small minority of voters. For now, everybody's just sitting back."

The first meaningful primary in the Pelican State in recent memory is expected to draw about a quarter of registered Republicans, who make up about a quarter of the state's electorate, Baton Rouge pollster Bernie Pinsonat said. He isn't affiliated with any candidate in this election cycle.

Heading into the primary, a poll by WWL-TV, News Orleans, indicated Rick Santorum led Romney, 25 percent to 21 percent. But 26 percent of poll participants said they were undecided.

"Louisiana will probably produce a Santorum victory as did Alabama and Mississippi because it is a southern state with a large number of evangelical voters who have so far supported Santorum in big numbers," said political commentator Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. "Santorum would be wise to focus time and campaign funds there."

A 2011 Gallup poll indicated 46 percent of Louisiana voters said they are Republicans or lean Republican, while 40 percent said they are Democrats or lean Democratic.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal won't endorse anyone until after the primary, a source close to the governor told CNN.

Jindal is considered by some observers to be on a short list of potential running mates even though he endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry last fall and campaigned for him until Perry suspended his campaign in January.

Saturday's primary is the first step in Louisiana's intricate delegate allocation process. The Louisiana GOP will conduct caucuses in April and hold a state convention in June to determine how the state's 43 delegates will be divided.

While Romney, Santorum and Newt Gingrich will stump in the state before the primary, libertarian-leaning Ron Paul is reserving his campaigning in Louisiana for the caucuses, maintaining his strategy of visiting caucus states. Through Friday, he had yet to win a primary or caucus.

In 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee nipped Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain 43.2 percent to 41.9 percent, to win in Louisiana. Romney finished third with 6.3 percent of the vote and Paul was fourth with 5.3 percent.

While the 2012 Republican presidential candidates "all have strengths and weaknesses," state Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere Jr. told The Times-Picayune. "I don't see a groundswell. Talking to people today, I don't get any sense. They're all split."

Party leaders and observers say, however, it won't matter whose name is listed as the Republican challenger to President Obama in November.

"In a head-to-head match, it's 'anybody but Obama,'" Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum said. "If Romney becomes the nominee, nobody's going to blink."

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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