Louisiana primary offers Rick Santorum chance for a needed win

Louisiana holds its Republican primary today in a race that is mostly about building momentum, as the winner can collect no more than 20 of the state’s 46 delegates, and the results will have little impact on the fight for the nomination.

It has turned out to be a bad week for Republicans to hold the primary. Louisianans have been spent the week obsessed with the New Orleans Saints, the state’s NFL franchise, which was hit with unprecedented penalties by Commissioner Roger Goodell for running – and repeatedly lying about – an illegal “bounty” program that for three years rewarded defensive players with extra cash payments if they injured opponents.

Wall-to-wall coverage of that brouhaha has dominated the front page of the state’s largest newspaper, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, pushing Republican contenders Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul to also-ran status before any votes have been cast.


The candidates have been spending plenty of time there nevertheless, mainly because Louisiana is a Republican stronghold and also the last primary on the schedule before a 10-day break leading up to votes in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Plus, there’s all that great Louisiana food to sample and one of America’s most interesting cities in New Orleans.

Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, is considered likely to win, based on polls and his victories in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, two states that mirror Louisiana’s conservative electorate on numerous social issues, with viewpoints that match Santorum’s belief that religion should play a strong role in governance.

A Public Policy Poll released on Friday showed Santorum with a commanding lead in Louisiana with 42% of the vote, followed by Romney at 28%, Gingrich with 18% and Paul at 8%. The automated telephone poll of 650 likely Republican voters has a sampling error of 3.8%.

Louisiana also may represent Santorum’s best chance at victory over the next few weeks, when votes in more moderate states pepper the calendar.

Santorum has hammered away at Romney, accusing him of being a fake conservative who in the primary has tried to win votes by taking positions he doesn’t truly support. Santorum found new fuel for the claim this week when one of Romney’s top aides, in response to a question about whether the candidate had moved too far to the right to win in the general election, said the campaign would be reset for that race, comparing it to shaking up an Etch-A-Sketch.

Santorum said on Friday he believes Romney’s actual viewpoints are not all that different from those of President Obama.

“There isn’t a dime’s worth of difference on some of the most important issues of the day. There is no contrast. There is no core. There is no trust among Republican voters as to what he believes in,” the former Pennsylvania senator said. “Here in Louisiana, you can speak out loudly that we don’t want just something just a little better than Barack Obama.”

Romney, the Republican front-runner and a former governor of Massachusetts, has stuck with his pitch that the party should nominate an economic conservative who is focused on creating jobs, and has said Santorum is an economic “lightweight” who cannot solve the country’s economic problems. On Friday, Romney devoted a news conference in suburban New Orleans to his call that Obama’s healthcare legislation, which the U.S. Supreme Court is set to take up next week, should be repealed.

“It’s critical that we repeal Obamacare and, by the way, also replace it,” he said. “I think I’m the only person in this race who’s laid out what I would replace it with.”

Romney said he plans to give a waiver to all 50 states discontinuing the president’s plan – known formally as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- and returning healthcare responsibilities to the states. He wants to take Medicaid money administered by the federal government and give it to states as block grants.

Louisiana will award 20 delegates proportionally to any candidate who receives at least 25% of the vote. The remaining 26 delegates will remain uncommitted until the Republican convention.

Staff writers John Hoeffel and Alana Semuels contributed to this report from Louisiana.

Original source: Louisiana primary offers Rick Santorum chance for a needed win