Reddest Red State primary: Santorum, Gingrich schedule late visits to Oklahoma; Romney and Paul also campaigning
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Published: 04-Mar-2012

OKLAHOMA CITY – Two of the four remaining Republican presidential hopefuls plan to make stops in the Sooner State before Tuesday's primary. All four of the top hopefuls have made campaign visits in the course of perhaps the most competitive Republican presidential primary in modern history. 

Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania will visit the state's two largest cities on Sunday (March 4); Newt Gingrich of Georgia will do the same on Monday (March 5). These are the second recent stops in Oklahoma for both men.

The Grand Old Party's state chairman, Matt Pinnell, has attended all of the visits by leading candidates, touting this as “the Reddest of the Red States.” In 2008, John McCain of Arizona won overwhelmingly, winning all 77 counties over Barack Obama of Illinois. 

Oklahoma has never before received as much primary attention as this year. Early voting began Friday (March 2). Republican Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb voted that day at the Oklahoma County election board, encouraging voters to get to the polls Tuesday or take advantage of early voting opportunities Saturday and Monday. 

Santorum is holding a Capitol rally on Sunday (March 4) at 3:30 p.m.. After that event, Santorum will travel to Tulsa's Grace Church (9610 South Garnet) for a 6:30 p.m. event.

Santorum was in the Sooner State last month, fresh from his trifecta of wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, but before the Feb. 28 losses to frontrunner Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts. Originally slated at a popular local gun club, overwhelming crowds forced Santorum's address to the Meridian Convention Center on the West Side. 

Santorum stressed both economic and social conservatism, touting the GOP as “the Truth Party.” He decried the Obama administration's moves against Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast via Oklahoma, at times sounding libertarian themes, as well.

Monday, Gingrich has an 11 a.m. rally in Tulsa with former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts of Norman and former Domino's Pizza executive Herman Cain (who visited the state within days of his withdrawal from the campaign in December). The event will be at :Joe Mama’s Pizza (112 S. Elgin Avenue). The trio will then travel to Oklahoma City for a 1:30 p.m. rally at Drill Right Technology (9630 Pole Road). 

In his Feb. 21 visit here, Gingrich wrapped himself in the mantel of Ronald Reagan, touting a “Plan of Abundance.” He drew a large crowd, just days after Santorum's visit. He blasted President Obama and told the crowd Oklahoma was an important state in this campaign.

Reflecting on the 30-minute Gingrich speech, Andrew Griffith of Red Dirt Report wrote, “A Newt Gingrich presidency, it would seem, would be a mix of Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt with a little George W. Bush thrown in there to keep the defense industry, Beltway neo-cons and wealthy donors happy.”

Gingrich has drawn many state legislators as supporters, including Tad Jones of Claremore, Todd Thompson of Ada, Mike Jackson of Enid, Rob Johnson of Yukon, Bryce Marlatt of Woodward, Leslie Osborne of Chickasha, Don Armes of Faxon, Dan Kirby of Broken Arrow, Greg Childers of Del City, Kim David of Wagoner and Colby Schwarz of Yukon. Chad Alexander, a veteran of Oklahoma campaigns, is running the Gingrich effort. 

Romney's October venue was across the street from the state Republican headquarters, and within a few dozen yards of Democratic headquarters. He raised money for the party, making a positive impression with high-end donors at breakfast, and with conservative grass roots activists at a mid-morning session in the Jim Thorpe Sports Hall of Fame on Lincoln Boulevard. Admission to the grass roots event was $20.12.

Asked if any Republican governor had a better record than Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Romney said the Hoosier executive was among the best. He praised a few others, including Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, for taking aggressive steps to curb spending and redirect government priorities. 

Romney has a “bricks and mortar” headquarters in Oklahoma City's MidTown district, county chairs in the top 10 counties, and volunteer teams in all five congressional districts. Two well-known statewide elected officials, Treasurer Ken Miller and Auditor Gary Jones, support Romney. Phil Valenziano, a full-time aide, has been “on the ground” since February 1. Romney has strong support from the editorial page of The Oklahoman, the state's largest newspaper. 

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas held a rally at the state Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 25. In a half-hour speech covered by Red Dirt Report, Paul stressed central themes of liberty, opposition to the Federal Reserve, an end of foreign military interventions, an end to the “Drug war” and efforts to “restore the Republic.”

His base includes several legislators, including two city Republicans: Rep. Charles Key and state Sen. Ralph Shortey, each of whom spoke at the event. Also in Paul's corner is former state Sen. Randy Brogdon, who ran a strong race against current Gov. Mary Fallin in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.

Santorum, Gingrich and Romney have all emphasized support of Energy, including the natural gas and oil industries. 

Santorum and Romney have made television advertising buys while ignoring most newspapers and radio stations. All four campaigns have a strong social media presence in Oklahoma. Robo-calls, many of them negative, have flooded the state since last week.

In a mid-February SoonerPoll, Santorum had 38.5 percent, for a large lead over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (23 percent). Gingrich trailed with 18 percent. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul had 7.6 backing in the statewide survey, conducted in mid-February.

The SoonerPoll found the top three candidates each were viewed positively by a majority of primary voters. Santorum is regarded as an honest man of integrity who understands common people; Gingrich is admired for leadership ability and experience; Romney was viewed as the candidate most likely to defeat incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama. 

The threshold for delegate support is 15 percent, meaning each of the top three Republican candidates could come out of Tuesday's contest with more convention votes than when the day began. Further, despite his SoonerPoll showing, Rep. Paul could garner delegates.

The Republican primary ballot has seven candidates – the active campaigners and three others: Rick Perry of Texas, Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota and John Huntsman of Utah. 
President Obama will win the Democratic primary, but four others are on the ballot: Bob Ely of Illinois, Jim Rogers of Oklahoma, Darcy Richardson of Florida, and Randall Terry of West Virginia. 

Terry, an ardent pro-life activist, recently campaigned in the state, backing the Personhood Amendment, an initiative drive aiming at the November ballot. Terry told CapitolBeatOK he hopes to get enough votes to deliver a jolt to the president's chances for reelection.

Obama's supporters, including former Governor David Walters, plan to encourage turnout and participation in the primary. Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson and state Sen. Connie Johnson of Oklahoma City are jabbing at Romney, the man they expect Obama to face in November.

NOTE: Photos from the most recent Oklahoma campaign events were graciously provided by Red Dirt Report www.reddirtreport.com.

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