Rick Santorum's national surge has him favored in polls in Oklahoma as Super Tuesday nears
Former Pennsylvania senator has topped two recent polls of likely Republican voters in Oklahoma, but state GOP chairman Matt Pinnell says the race is still wide open
WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum's national surge and his appeal to social conservatives make him the favorite among Oklahoma Republican voters less than two weeks before the Super Tuesday presidential contests, but the dynamics of the race could change, pollsters and GOP officials say.
Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, has topped two recent polls of Republican voters in the state. In one poll, he scored highest on the question of which GOP candidate would be the strongest opponent of President Barack Obama — a marked break from national polls that show former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney viewed as the best general election candidate.
Romney supporters have taken notice of Santorum's lead in Oklahoma. Restore Our Future, a political action committee backing Romney, has spent about $278,000 in Oklahoma to air ads attacking Santorum, according to reports filed last week with the Federal Election Commission.
Oklahoma Republican Party chairman Matt Pinnell said the race in Oklahoma is still wide open.
“As we've seen with this Republican primary, wait a day and it will change,'' Pinnell said.
If Romney wins contests in Michigan and Arizona on Tuesday, “he'll probably get a pretty good bump not only in Oklahoma but in other Super Tuesday states,'' Pinnell said.
Oklahoma is one of ten states holding primaries or caucuses on March 6, Super Tuesday. There are 43 delegates up for grabs in Oklahoma, and those delegates will be allotted proportionately statewide and in the five congressional districts based on results.
It's possible that three or even four candidates could win delegates in Oklahoma, but Pinnell said the Republicans hoping to win over the party's conservative base are vying not just for delegates but for the distinction of winning the state that gave Obama his worst showing in 2008. All four of the major GOP candidates have made appearances in Oklahoma.
Pat McFerron, a Republican pollster and consultant with CMA Strategies in Oklahoma City, said Santorum is leading polls in the state “because he's not Mitt Romney and he's not Newt Gingrich.”
McFerron said the Republican electorate in Oklahoma is very religious and Santorum's stand on social issues is appealing.
Gingrich, he said, “has some vulnerabilities there given his personal history,'' which includes an admitted affair and two divorces.
McFerron said Romney, who finished third in Oklahoma's Republican presidential primary in 2008 with about 25 percent of the vote, probably won't get more than 35 percent this year. Romney's negatives among Oklahoma Republicans, McFerron said, involve class — meaning Romney's wealth — his reputation for changing positions on issues and, to some, his Mormon faith.
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