Santorum's announcement forces choice for local delegates

Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks at the annual Lincoln Day event Saturday, March 10, 2012 in Cape Girardeau, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

When Rick Santorum spoke in Cape Girardeau last month, he told local Republicans that he intended to take his "different visions for our country" all the way to the White House. It turns out the former Pennsylvania senator and staunch conservative won't even make it to his home state's primary that's just two weeks away.

Santorum quit the presidential campaign Tuesday, delighting Mitt Romney supporters who say Romney now has a clear path to the GOP nomination. But the decision disappointed some area Republicans who maintained Santorum could have unseated Democratic President Barack come November.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson invited Santorum to come to Cape Girardeau in March to speak at the Lincoln Day event and introduced him as the next president of the United States. Her comments Tuesday suggested she has no regrets.

"I was so proud to host my friend Rick Santorum in Cape Girardeau last month because he represents an important national conversation we ought to be having prior to the presidential election in November," Emerson said in the hours after Santorum's announcement. "Although he has suspended his campaign, I know he will continue to be a strong voice for conservative principles in American politics."

When Santorum appeared in Cape Girardeau, he still seemed a legitimate threat to Romney's status as front-runner. He spoke that Saturday night fresh off a win in Kansas, and several local Republicans suggested at the time he was gaining momentum. A week later he garnered the most support in Cape Girardeau County in Missouri's March 17 county-level caucus. Eighty-five of the Republicans who attended that caucus supported Santorum, compared to Romney's 22. Santorum in February won Missouri's nonbinding presidential primary election, taking 55 percent of the vote compared to Romney's 25 percent.

But it was the delegate totals that told the tale of Santorum's demise. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, had more than twice as many delegates as Santorum and is on pace to reach the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination by early June. Still in the race but not considered a factor: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Santorum had been hoping to hold out through the primary in Pennsylvania on April 24, but decided to fold up after his severely ill 3-year-old daughter, Bella, spent the weekend in the hospital.

"I'm a little disappointed because I do like Rick Santorum," said Cape Girardeau County GOP chairman Evan Trump. "He would have been a great presidential candidate on the GOP ticket, especially going up against Barack Obama."

Having said that, Trump said, Santorum "probably made the right decision" based on the information he had. Missouri is still in the middle of its caucus system to award the state's 52 delegates. The next congressional district caucus is set for April 28 in Poplar Bluff, Mo., which a portion of the local delegates are set to attend.

Because the county-level delegates are nonbinding -- not every county did that -- the delegates are free to throw their support behind whichever candidate they choose, though it seems to make little difference now. Still, Trump and others said it's important to let the process play out so Missouri has a voice in the presidential nominating process. The delegates will be awarded at the state GOP convention in June.

The 20 delegates who were going to support Santorum will probably talk about what to do next, Trump said. He wouldn't commit, but said Republicans should all rally behind whomever the nominee turns out to be.

Scott R. Clark, the county recorder of deeds, also supported Santorum. Santorum's decision Tuesday "certainly does make an interesting twist of events," Clark said.

But Clark conceded that Romney is now the presumptive nominee.

"He's worked very hard to get to the point he is at," Clark said. "I don't necessarily agree with him on some principles, but what I think is important now is we unify and unite behind an individual who is going to defeat the current president, who obviously in my opinion is taking this country in the wrong direction."

But can Romney really unseat an incumbent president who is currently leading in the polls?

"On any given Tuesday in November, anyone can win," Clark said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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