Gingrich, Santorum battle for Super Tuesday votes in Bible Belt

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Dot Ward, a 73-year-old homemaker from Madison, Miss., said she is leaning toward Gingrich.

“I think Newt stands the greatest possibility of being able to debate with him intelligently and present a good case,” Ward said. “But then I’m not sure about Newt and his ability to be president. See, that’s what worries me the most. I’m unhappy about all of the candidates. And Rick Santorum, I do like very much. I like what he stands for. But I don’t think he’s got what seems to me the maturity.”

Louisiana has received scant attention with its primary still three weeks away. Gov. Bobby Jindal hasn’t endorsed anyone since Perry, whom he supported, dropped out. Campaign ads, mailers, bumper stickers and yard signs are largely missing from the state, which has 46 delegates up for grabs.

Jason Dore, executive director of Louisiana’s state GOP, expects candidates will spend time and money in his state if the nomination remains undecided by the March 24 primary.

“It’s going to be a last-minute thing,” Dore said.

The state’s Republican voters are staunchly conservative and are expected to favor Gingrich or Santorum in the primary over Romney.

“I would think Louisiana voters would gravitate toward Gingrich as a fellow Southerner and conservative and toward Santorum as a conservative, and not in the Romney camp, except only in the reluctant sense,” said Kirby Goidel, a Louisiana State University political science professor.

In Georgia, evangelicals and tea party voters have struggled with their choices.

The group Georgia Right to Life endorsed both Santorum and Gingrich as equally strong abortion foes.

The Christian Coalition of Georgia hasn’t endorsed anyone, but its leaders have sent emails opposing Gingrich. Jerry Luquire, the group’s president, said Gingrich has too much “anti-family baggage” associated with his three marriages and past infidelities.

“He may have been forgiven by his family and by his God,” Luquire said. “But there is still a penalty he has to pay.”

Mike Morton, a tea party leader in Rome, said members of his group have been favoring Santorum. But he sees Gingrich gaining ground by focusing on Georgia and promising $2.50-a-gallon gasoline.

“What I kind of see now is the question of Santorum’s electability starting to rear its head again,” said Morton, who sees the candidate’s focus on social issues turning off some fiscal conservatives. “It causes people to think if that’s where he is, is he really electable in a cycle where the economy and getting jobs are the top issues?”

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Associated Press writers Erik Schelzig in Powell, Tenn., Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss., and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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