GOP Hopefuls Court Louisianans Ahead Of Primary

Louisiana holds its Republican primary Saturday. All four of the remaining candidates are campaigning in the state.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now, let's get out to the campaign trail. In the race for the Republican nomination, the scene has shifted to Louisiana, which is holding its primary tomorrow. Today, all four of the remaining GOP candidates are campaigning in the state.

Most of the media focus is on Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Both men have won other Southern primaries, and both have been in and out of Louisiana all week long, hoping a victory there will keep their slim chances of winning the GOP nomination alive. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Rick Santorum, the next president of the United States...

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Neither a balky sound system, nor a gale that delayed Rick Santorum's motorcade, dampened the enthusiasm of members of the Mandiville Tea Party earlier this week. Santorum stood before them with what at first looked like a black book by his side, with red edges. A Bible, perhaps? Turned out it was the bottom of an Etch A Sketch, a prop to illustrate the now-famous gaffe of an aide to Mitt Romney, which Santorum brandished to poke fun at Romney, and tout his own steadfastness.

RICK SANTORUM: You have an opportunity here in Louisiana to make a very clear statement. You're not looking for someone who's the Etch A Sketch candidate. You're looking for someone who writes what they believe in, in stone, and stays true to what they say.

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NAYLOR: Santorum is the favorite to win Louisiana, based on recent polling. James Garand is a political science professor at Louisiana State University, and says Republicans here are a divergent lot.

JAMES GARAND: You have parts of the state that are just like the regular Deep South. The northern part of the state is Bible Belt, very conservative; and Republicans are very similar to Republicans in Alabama or Mississippi.

NAYLOR: The southern part of the state, Garand says, has a large Catholic population, which he says is likely to be more receptive to Mitt Romney. Romney has done better among Catholics than has Santorum, despite Santorum being a Catholic. Still, Garand says:

GARAND: I think overall, if you look at the entire state, Republicans are probably going to be more comfortable with a Rick Santorum-type candidacy.

NAYLOR: Even with a win in Louisiana, it's hard to see how Santorum will gain much on Romney's delegate lead, since both will likely receive delegates.

Harder still to figure, are the chances of Newt Gingrich. The former speaker has been campaigning sporadically, but apparently believes he has a shot in Louisiana, too. Gingrich spoke at a Baton Rouge Tea Party rally at LSU last night.

NEWT GINGRICH: With your help on Saturday, I believe we once again, for the ninth or tenth time in this cycle, will reset the race. And I think we have a huge opportunity to reset the race. But we need your help, right here in Louisiana, on Saturday.

NAYLOR: LSU student Paul Garrison says he plans to support Gingrich in Saturday's primary, but is realistic about his chances.

PAUL GARRISON: It's not over but, you know, it is - unfortunately - looking that way. But I'm going to try my hardest and vote, and get all my friends to support Gingrich until, you know, the end. And if Romney wins it then, you know, I guess I'll shift towards him. But in the meantime, I'm going to be for Newt.

NAYLOR: Gingrich and Santorum both have busy schedules in Louisiana today, and they'll be joined in the state by Romney and even Ron Paul, who's been all but absent from the campaign trail but apparently, believes he can pick up a few delegates here as well.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Monroe, Louisiana.

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