March 13, 2012 9:03:07 PM
JACKSON -- Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were almost evenly splitting Mississippi's Republican presidential primary vote Tuesday, with 60 percent of the precincts reporting.
Conservative voters in the Deep South state said they were seeking the strongest challenger to face Democratic President Barack Obama in the November general election.
Gingrich, Romney and Santorum each made several campaign appearances in the past week. Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas, did not actively campaign in Mississippi.
Former House Speaker Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress for 20 years, pitched himself as a candidate who understands the Deep South. Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney said he learned to say "y'all" and had a newfound appreciation for grits.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum courted Christian conservatives in a state where evangelicals make up a significant part of the Republican electorate.
Mississippi has 40 Republican delegates, and 37 are awarded in the primary. The other three are party officials who may choose which candidate to support. Two of the three already were committed to Romney, and one was uncommitted.
Don Wynne, 65, and his wife, Beth Wynne, 64, both voted for Gingrich at the Liberty Baptist Church precinct in the Jackson suburb of Flowood. The Wynnes, who own two barbecue restaurants, said they'll vote for Romney in November if he is the nominee, but they're not enthusiastic about him.
"He's just a polished politician," Don Wynne said of Romney.
The Wynnes said they voted for Gingrich on Tuesday because they think he's a straight talker. Still, they weren't enchanted with any of the candidates.
"I've been a Republican for a long time," Don Wynne said. "What baffles me is why we can't seem to come up with better candidates."
Mary Ann Murphy, 46, who teaches special-needs high school students, said she voted for Romney because she sees him as a good businessman and she believes he can defeat Obama.
"I find it ironic that people get upset when somebody is successful," Murphy said after she voted at St. Mark's United Methodist Church near Flowood. "We should look for someone who knows how to succeed."
At a precinct at a library in Jackson, James Cooper, who said he would vote for Obama in November, said he voted for Santorum in an effort to weaken Romney.
"I want to keep the insanity going," Cooper said. "It feels kinda dirty to vote for Santorum, but you have to play the game."
Susan Delcambre, 58, a computer analyst who lives near Pearl, said she voted for Santorum.
"He has fought so hard to safeguard children," she said. "He's a strong family man, a God-fearing man."
Iraq war veteran Jason Seal, 37, said he voted for Paul.
"I totally agree with everything he says on foreign policy," Seal said after voting at the Rankin Baptist Association building.
At the Madison United Methodist Church precinct, John Powell of Madison said he was "just looking for change" so he voted for Romney. But he said he wasn't thrilled with his choices.
"I wasn't really jumping for joy," he said. "I like his views a little more than the other candidates."
Associated Press writers Laura Tillman and Jeff Amy contributed to this report.