Santorum wins 'beauty contest' primary in Southeast Missouri counties

Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Suzanne Dufek uses an iPad to sign in with election judges Donald Niswonger and Robert Hartmann, right, before receiving her ballot at St. Andrew Lutheran Church on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012, in Cape Girardeau. The St. Andrew polling location was the first precinct to try out the new iPad polling app called Know Ink Poll Pad. (Kristin Eberts)

Rick Santorum should have a warm welcome when he comes to Cape Girardeau next month.

The Republican presidential candidate swept aside front-runner Mitt Romney in the statewide presidential primary Tuesday, capturing zero delegates in the nonbinding election but perhaps a bit of momentum.

With nearly 99 percent of the state's 3,134 precincts reporting, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania won with 55.2 percent, or about 138,238 votes. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney had 25.3 percent, and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had 12.2 percent.

Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich wasn't on the ballot. About 324,500 Missourians voted Tuesday.

The support for Santorum, who is scheduled to be in Cape Girardeau on March 10 for a county GOP event, was strong locally as well. In Cape Girardeau County, Santorum garnered 2,205 votes, or about 60 percent of the 4,075 votes that were cast.

Romney got 869 votes for 23.7 percent, and Paul got 8.4 percent.

Ken Steinkamp voted for Santorum on Tuesday at the A.C. Brase Arena Building over the lunch hour.

"I just like his views better than the others," Steinkamp said.

While Jackson residents scurried to the polls to settle a controversial annexation question, election judges in Cape Girardeau were fighting boredom as voters largely reacted to the nonbinding presidential primary with a collective yawn.

Only 8.07 percent of the county's 51,768 registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, which was well below Cape Girardeau County Clerk Kara Clark Summers' prediction last month of 32 percent.

"In the beginning, everybody was really excited about this," Summers said after the results were in. "With the way it unfolded, it didn't matter. People kept hearing that their vote wasn't going to count."

The presidential primary in Missouri has been lambasted as a meaningless straw poll because it's actually a preferential election that doesn't award any of the state's 52 delegates. That process will begin March 17 with the caucuses.

'Uncommitted' option

Some groused that GOP candidate Newt Gingrich wasn't on the ballot. Meanwhile, several candidates who had dropped out remained and got votes from those who said they still wanted to support their candidate of choice.

Write-in candidates were not allowed. There was a choice of "uncommitted" that drew votes that could have been intended for the former House speaker.

Summers said when people called and asked about Gingrich, she told them if they were unhappy with the choices, they could opt for "uncommitted."

Rick Althaus, a political science professor at Southeast Missouri State University, said the low turnout is easily explained.

"It's not hard to understand why we have a low voter turnout in an election where people are told it doesn't count," Althaus said. "The ones who did are the ones who are simply in the habit of voting. It is a way for voters to express themselves."

Other voters Tuesday did complain about the price tag of the election -- $7 million for what Althaus said was basically a "beauty contest." Some candidates, such as Santorum may gain momentum, Althaus said.

Still, Summers wishes more people voted. One voter told her Tuesday they voted so they don't lose their right to vote. Another said they wanted to be a part of the process, she said.

"We felt like every vote counted," she said.

Santorum won in several other Southeast Missouri counties, as well. In Stoddard County, Santorum got 59.77 percent of the vote to Romney's 24.65 percent and Paul's 7.79 percent. In Bollinger County, Santorum got 53.5 percent to Romney's 23 percent and Paul's 11.5 percent. Santorum got 55 percent in Scott County to Romney's 27.1 percent and Paul's 9.6 percent. In Perry County, Santorum got 65.1 percent to Romney's 16.8 percent to Paul's 8.9 percent.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

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