Another Southern Win Keeps Santorum Optimistic

Rick Santorum won the Louisiana Republican presidential primary Saturday, beating front-runner Mitt Romney in the race to challenge President Obama. i i

Rick Santorum won the Louisiana Republican presidential primary Saturday, beating front-runner Mitt Romney in the race to challenge President Obama. Jae C. Hong/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Jae C. Hong/AP
Rick Santorum won the Louisiana Republican presidential primary Saturday, beating front-runner Mitt Romney in the race to challenge President Obama.

Rick Santorum won the Louisiana Republican presidential primary Saturday, beating front-runner Mitt Romney in the race to challenge President Obama.

Jae C. Hong/AP

Rick Santorum had been expected to win Louisiana's Republican presidential primary Saturday, but the size of the victory was a surprise. The former Pennsylvania senator captured 49 percent of the GOP vote. Mitt Romney, who is the front-runner nationally, finished a distant second with nearly 27 percent. Santorum sees his win as evidence that the party still has big doubts about Romney.

Among those who voted for Santorum was 54-year-old Curt Thurmon in Shreveport.

"I feel like even though I like Newt Gingrich better, I feel like Rick's the only one who stands a chance against [President] Obama," he says. "I'm an engineer. I deal in statistics. It'd be wasting my vote to vote for [Gingrich]."

But the odds facing Santorum are long as well, given Romney's big — some say insurmountable — delegate lead. Thurmon says he recognizes the challenge for Santorum.

"Then it comes to an ethical deal," he says, "where I do feel like Santorum is a better pick than Romney."

Retiree Barbara Qualey also cast her ballot at the Lakeview United Methodist Church. She, too, went for Santorum but said she's happy to vote for Romney in the general election.

"I would vote for anybody who is running against Obama," she says.

At a polling place in the town of Alexandria, a 90-minute drive from Shreveport, Carl Wynn, a businessman and veteran, says he's a Gingrich supporter.

"Santorum is a fine man, but I think he's a lightweight when it comes to handling the country and the problems we have," Wynn, 81, says.

Christopher Chenovert, 38, disagrees. The self-described fiscal and Tea Party conservative voted for Santorum and says he likes the candidate's Christian beliefs. The big question for him is why Gingrich is still in the race. He says that only hurts Santorum's chances of making a comeback.

"Gingrich, come on ... you ought to know when to quit," he says.

At a polling place in the capital, Baton Rouge, 29-year-old Colby Cypriano voted for Romney. She admits she's not exactly thrilled with his candidacy, but she sees him as the best chance to defeat Obama.

"Probably out of the Republican candidates he's the one who can pull in the most independents," she says, "and that's really, I think, gonna be a big decision-maker."

Still, she winces a bit when asked about last week's Etch A Sketch remark by a top Romney adviser. Exit polls in Louisiana show that 39 percent of voters said that incident was a factor in their decision — 20 percent said the comment was "important" to their vote.

It's the kind of thing — along with a big win in Louisiana — that gives Santorum hope.