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SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg. Rachel Martin is on assignment, as you'll hear later. Louisiana was good to Rick Santorum yesterday. The former Pennsylvania senator had been expected to win that state's Republican presidential primary, but the size of the victory was a surprise. Santorum got 49 percent of the GOP vote. Mitt Romney, who's the front-runner nationally, finished a distant second. Santorum sees it as evidence that the party still has big doubts about Romney. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is in Louisiana. He spent yesterday talking to voters there.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: I started the day in Shreveport in the northwest corner of Louisiana and ended it after a long drive to New Orleans in the southeast, along the way stopping at polling places. I walked up to 54-year-old Curt Thurmon outside the Lakeview United Methodist Church in Shreveport. OK, so, you voted.

CURT THURMON: I did.

GONYEA: Who'd you vote for and tell me why.

THURMON: Rick Santorum. I feel like even though I like Newt Gingrich better, I feel like Rick's the only one that stands a chance against Obama.

GONYEA: That's got to break Newt's heart to somebody like you say that.

THURMON: I know, I know. But, hey, I'm an engineer. I deal in statistics. It'll be wasting my vote to vote for him.

GONYEA: But the odds facing Santorum are long as well, given Romney's big, some say insurmountable, delegate lead. I asked Thurmon about that. OK, as somebody who deals with statistics and looks at the numbers, you know it's not an easy go for Santorum either.

THURMON: Well, then it comes to an ethical deal where I do feel like Santorum is a better pick than Romney.

GONYEA: A few minutes later, retiree Barbara Qualey arrived to cast her ballot at this location. She too went for Santorum, but said come the general election she's happy to vote for Romney or...

BARBARA QUALEY: I would vote for anybody who is running against Obama.

GONYEA: Anybody.

QUALEY: Anything, including a asp, A-S-P, a snake.

GONYEA: A 90-minute-drive brought me to the town of Alexandria and a polling place at an elementary school. Eighty-one-year-old Carl Wynn, a businessman and a military veteran, is a Gingrich supporter.

CARL WYNN: Santorum's a fine man but I think he's a lightweight when it comes to handling the country and the problems we have.

GONYEA: Also in Alexandria, 38-year-old Christopher Chenovert disagrees with that assessment. He voted Santorum and says he likes the candidate's Christian beliefs. Chenovert also describes himself as a pro-gun, fiscal and Tea Party conservative. The big question for Chenovert is why Gingrich is still in the race. He says that only hurts Santorum's chances of making a comeback.

CHRISTOPHER CHENOVERT: Gingrich, come on. You know, you ought to know when to quit, really. Whatever.

GONYEA: At a polling place in the state capital, Baton Rouge, 29-year-old Colby Cypriano had just voted for Romney. She admits she is not exactly thrilled with the Romney candidacy, but she sees him as the best chance to defeat President Obama.

COLBY CYPRIANO: Probably out of the Republican candidates, he's the one that can pull in the independents, and that's really, I think, going to be a big decision maker.

GONYEA: Still, she winces a bit when asked about last week's Etch A Sketch remark by a top Romney advisor. Exit polls in Louisiana show that 39 percent of voters said that incident was a factor in their decision. Twenty percent said the comment was important to their vote. It's the kind of thing, along with a big win in Louisiana, that gives Rick Santorum hope. Don Gonyea, NPR News, New Orleans.

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