OKLAHOMA CITY (CBSMiami/AP) – Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is hoping his brand of social conservatism will resonate with voters in Oklahoma as they line up to cast their ballots in the Super Tuesday contest.
Tricia Tetreault, who works in office furniture sales, voted near her home in Edmond shortly after polls opened at 7 a.m. She said she wasn’t happy about the GOP choices, but that she voted for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was hoping to keep his struggling campaign alive with a strong showing in his native Georgia, another of the 10 states holding Super Tuesday elections.
“Ronald Reagan isn’t available anymore, what can I say?” Tetreault said.
Herbert Skidmore, a 63-year-old retired teacher from suburban Oklahoma City, said he was so discouraged by the GOP field that he cast a blank ballot.
“I am so frustrated with the slate of candidates that the only reason I came was to keep my voting record intact,” said Skidmore. He said he registered as a Republican in 1970 but planned to re-register as an independent because he’s tired of politicians softening or changing their positions after the primaries to try to appeal to a broader base.
With just 40 of the 419 delegates up for grabs in Tuesday elections, Oklahoma’s presidential primary was somewhat overshadowed by contests in other states. However, three of the four GOP candidates visited Oklahoma in the past month — Santorum, Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Republican front-runner Mitt Romney last visited in October.
Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, described Oklahoma the “ground zero of the conservative movement.” He paid his second visit to Oklahoma over the weekend as he tried to nail down support from Christian conservatives, a critical segment of the state’s Republican voters.
“A state like Oklahoma is a state, as you hear, that fits me well,” Santorum said after a speech on Sunday that drew about 1,300 supporters at a suburban Tulsa church. Rendon Chambers, a political science student at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, said he voted Tuesday for Romney, believing the former Massachusetts governor’s experience heading the private equity firm Bain Capital best positioned him to address the nation’s economic problems.
“Rick Santorum is way too far right and Newt has way too much baggage,” he said. “I believe Romney has the ability to reach across the aisle and work with members of both parties.”
Romney picked up a key endorsement over the weekend from Oklahoma’s popular U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who is among the most conservative members of the Senate.
Election officials said turnout was steady over three days of early voting.
Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in this state with populist roots, voters here are traditionally conservative and have not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in a general election since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Four years ago, Oklahoma was the only state in which President Barack Obama failed to win a single one of its 77 counties, earning the state its “reddest of the red” nickname.
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