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Boone County voters back Santorum in Republican presidential primary

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 | 11:54 p.m. CST; updated 7:34 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 8, 2012

COLUMBIA — Missourians reported to the polls Tuesday to cast their votes in the nonbinding Presidential Preference Primary.

Breaking from the trend set by January primaries and caucuses, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum emerged victorious in the Show-Me State by a wider than anticipated margin, claiming 55.2 percent of the popular vote. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney placed second with 25.3 percent, while Rep. Ron Paul was a distant third, earning 12.2 percent.

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Santorum also was the winner in Boone County, where he received 3,260 votes, or 49.5 percent of the vote. Romney was second with 1,784 votes, or 27.1 percent, and Paul was third with 1,198 votes, or 18.2 percent.

Bruce Cornett, chairman of the Boone County Republican Central Committee, attributed Santorum's "anomalous" win to three factors: strategic campaign efforts, an ambivalent bloc of Republican voters and Newt Gingrich's absence from the ballot.

Voter turnout in Boone County was anticipated to be small. County Clerk Wendy Noren predicted last week that about 16 percent of registered voters would make their way to the polls. Tuesday evening's results proved this estimate to be optimistic: Only 9 percent of those registered to vote in Boone County cast their ballot.

"I don't think the Republican base turned out because they knew it didn't count," Cornett said.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Missouri Republican Party Chairman David Cole thanked people who did vote.

"While the nonbinding primary is certainly not an ideal situation, we agree with the reporter who observed earlier today that the Show-Me State primary could still 'carry a lot of weight,'" Cole wrote.

Although no delegates were on the line in Tuesday's race, Boone County Pachyderm Club President Mike Zweifel agreed that winning what has been popularly labeled a "beauty contest" might still be an asset.

"I think it would matter in terms of public opinion and support" — two things that Zweifel said Santorum has seen no short supply of in Missouri.

Zweifel ascribed Santorum's victory to enthusiasm generated by cross-state campaigning Friday, which energized his grassroots supporters and resulted in a domino effect: They called their friends and reached out via social media outlets such as Facebook.

At least among his own circle, Zweifel reported seeing more posts about the Pennsylvania senator on his news feed than about any other candidate.

"I don't remember seeing a Mitt Romney ad or appearance," Zweifel said.

With a plan wholly different from "Obamacare" and a more fiscally conservative platform, Zweifel said Santorum also aligns with Missourians' stances on hot issues.

To a greater degree than Romney, "Santorum would provide a more distinct difference between himself and President Obama in the general election," he said.

Both Zweifel and Cornett agreed that Santorum would fare well in a contest against the incumbent Democrat, assuming that his victory in Missouri is more than a fluke.

Boone County Democrats overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama, who received 2,047, or 92.8 percent of the popular vote. Sixty-eight area voters, however, cast uncommitted ballots.

At a Democratic watch party Tuesday night at the Columbia Country Club, residents gathered to discuss the implications of the primary results.

"I have issues with Obama," Columbia Democrat Carolyn Mathews said. "He hasn't done everything he said he would, but that's not entirely his fault ... Republicans have put up blockades that are impossible."

When asked whether there were any appealing Republican candidates, Mathews paused briefly before identifying Ron Paul.

"I like his views on civil liberties, but he's got a history of racism," Mathews said.

Ken Jacob, a former Democratic state senator and state representative, said it's a foregone conclusion that Romney will be the Republican challenger to face Obama in November. 

Jacob said he's lived through all sorts of Republican administrations but expressed concern about the degree of "hostility" recently displayed by GOP members.

"You hope whoever the president is, they have a good heart," he said.

Like Jacob, former city councilman Karl Skala believes that Romney will ultimately receive the final bid for the presidency.

Santorum's victory will force Romney to strengthen his appeal to conservative voters, and that will weaken his chances of winning in November when the outcome will hinge on independent votes, Skala said.

"The more Missouri folks can pull Romney to the right, the closer Obama can pull people from the middle and the more appealing Obama becomes to independents," Skala said.

Craig Arnzen, chairman of the Mizzou College Republicans, remains skeptical about the significance of Tuesday's race.

"I think it'll be a soft feeler for what people think in Missouri. What we're going find tonight is going to mean far less than what we find out in the caucuses," Arnzen said.

Delegates from 10 states will be awarded on Super Tuesday, March 6 — nearly two weeks before Missouri's caucus, which is slated for March 17. With a clearer picture of who will ultimately claim the Republican candidacy, voters may reconsider their loyalties, Arnzen said. 

"People tend to get behind a winner," Arnzen said.

Zweifel anticipates a small but mostly insignificant effect. "I don't think it's going to be the final characteristic that people are going to use to cast their ballot in the caucus."


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Comments

Ellis Smith February 8, 2012 | 5:10 a.m.

Does anyone seriously believe that Santorum is going to be elected President in 2012?

(On the other hand, it could be argued that Santorum is as inexperienced in 2012 as Obama was in 2008.)

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