Allan Katz and Danae Columbus: Local Republicans predict a long race for nomination

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Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

The fact that Mitt Romney was unable to wrap up the GOP Presidential nomination in early-voting states leaves both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich with a chance to become the party’s nominee, say two Louisiana Republicans who have been watching the fight closely.

Roger Villere, Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party and a recent addition to the Executive Committee of the Republican National Committee, said Santorum’s surprising victory in three Republican state presidential primaries has thrown the race wide open again.

“If he catches fire, Santorum has a chance, and you can’t count out Gingrich,” Villere said. “Romney still remains the frontrunner and the betting favorite, but he hasn’t been able to lock it up yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if this goes all the way to the Republican National Convention. Every time it appears that Romney has a grip on the nomination, another challenger steps up and becomes the focus of the opposition.”

Offering a similar view is James Farwell, a long-time Republican political consultant who has run dozens of races for GOP candidates across the nation.

“Because Romney hasn’t been able to close the deal, he has kept Santorum and Gingrich in the game,” said Farwell. “Gingrich remains the Babe Ruth of the Republican Party – in any at-bat, he can hit a home run or strike out on three pitches. Santorum comes out of the vacuum created by Romney’s inability to touch the heart of Republican conservatives. They haven’t accepted Romney as their nominee and are still looking for a ‘new face’ who they hope can take the fight to the convention and wrest the nomination away from Romney.”

Villere takes the view that the grinding process of the Republican battle is in the long run good for his party and for the prospective nominees.

“I don’t share the view of those who say that the hard race for the nomination is debilitating for whoever gets the nod,” says Villere. “I think this hard process is going to make the eventual nominee – whoever that may be of the three finalists – a much better candidate to go up against (President Barack) Obama.”

Farwell isn’t sure about that. “I think the constant fighting and attacks on all three candidates by one another is diminishing the enthusiasm of Republican voters,” says Farwell. “Whoever wins the nomination will face the task of uniting Republicans and firing up their enthusiasm.”

Villere’s view is that whoever gets the nomination is going to face an incumbent Obama who will have $1 billion in his coffers. “If our nominee can’t take the heat in the Republican contest, how can he hope to stand up to the heat that he’ll face when it’s Obama with all the money, the power of the incumbency and the resources of the Presidency?” asks Villere.

Both Villere and Farwell say that whichever Republican comes out of the fray with the nomination will have to run a brilliant campaign to beat Obama. “At least in theory, this could be one of the closest Presidential races in American history,” says Villere. “Our Republican nominee will have to come out of the GOP fight ready to go and at the top of his game.”

Both also agree that the fact the fight is still going on might lift the profile of Louisiana’s Republican preferential primary on March 24. They say some of the Presidential nomination finalists may decide to visit the state or pour some money into the contest here. And, they think that the rest of the nation will be very interested in the outcome of the Louisiana GOP primary.

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 Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, state Rep. Robert Billiot and former judicial candidate Kris Kiefer.

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