As the torturous Republican Presidential Primary trail winds its way toward a still-uncertain finish, the Louisiana GOP preferential primary on March 24 is assuming increasing interest and it may have the nation’s full attention if front-runner Mitt Romney continues to struggle.
Romney upped his lead in the Republican nomination chase on Super Tuesday, winning six of the ten states that went to the polls, but the fact remains that rival Rick Santorum carried three states – Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota – and just missed upsetting Romney in the key Midwestern state of Ohio. No Republican candidate in 150 years has won the presidency without carrying Ohio. But the returns from the Buckeye state showed that voters there were sharply divided with 38 percent of Republicans who went to the polls voting for Santorum. How enthused will those Santorum voters be in November if it’s Romney’s name on the Republican ballot?
Besides the three states that Santorum carried, GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich carried Georgia where he once served as a Congressman. Ron Paul didn’t carry any Super Tuesday states. Romney carried Ohio, Alaska, Virginia, Idaho, Massachusetts and Vermont. The biggest surprise was in Ohio where Romney outspent Santorum 5-to-1. But Santorum’s culture war campaign carried voters in rural areas who consider themselves either very conservative or born-again Christians.
Romney may face some stern tests on Tuesday, March 13, when two of the four states that will be choosing a Republican Presidential candidate are Alabama and Mississippi, where much of the Republican electorate is made up of very conservative or born-again Christian voters. Romney has not fared very well in the South, having overwhelmingly lost South Carolina to Gingrich just a few weeks ago.
After Mississippi and Alabama comes Louisiana on Saturday, March 24. So far, Santorum and Gingrich have announced their intention to visit Louisiana prior to the primary. It is expected that Romney and Paul will be here also.
The real point about Romney’s problems with conservative and religious voters is not that he would lose states like Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana if he were the Republican nominee. Whoever the Republican nominee turns out to be will most certainly overwhelmingly carry those Southern states against President Barack Obama, who barely gets 15 percent of the white vote in most Deep South states. But, Romney’s weakness with them may cause very conservative and religious voters to stay home in November in key battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado because they just really don’t like Romney and can’t be made to become enthused about him.
The Louisiana Republican primary will be meaningful. It will decide how 20 of the state’s 46 delegates will be divided. The state’s final GOP caucus is April 28. Roger Villere, State Chair of the Republican Party, says, “Given what happened on Super Tuesday, I think the Louisiana primary will be much watched and closely-dissected.”
Santorum, Gingrich and Paul will be formidable opponents for Romney. Each of the three has pockets of support in Louisiana Republican circles, including Uptown New Orleans. When the Republican primary was scheduled by the State GOP last year, few expected that Republican race to be so much up in the air by late March. Now that it is, the nation’s pundits and political insiders will be watching to see if Romney put together the same kind of upper-income, well-educated, big city or suburban coalition in Louisiana that rescued him in Ohio. It will also be interesting to see if the Romney machine decides to pour in hundreds of thousands in a media buy in Louisiana like those they’ve fired up in other states. Villere has heard that the Romney camp will be making a $3 million media buy in Mississippi. A $3 million media buy in Louisiana may not assure Romney a win here but it will certainly assure that a large percentage of the state’s Republican voters will find their way to the polls, no matter who they happen to be for.
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and state Rep. Robert Billiot.