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Louisiana primary voters hardly enthusiastic about GOP options

March 24, 2012|By John Hoeffel
  • A streetcar passes a voting station along St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.
A streetcar passes a voting station along St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. (Sean Gardner / Getty Images )

Reporting from Metairie, La. —

For much of a Saturday afternoon with perfect warm and breezy voting weather, the poll workers in the gym at T.H. Harris Middle School had the place to themselves. No more than several voters were in the booths at one time and for long stretches there were none in this suburb on Lake Pontchartrain west of New Orleans.

Nine Republicans were listed on the presidential primary ballot, including Charles "Buddy" Roemer, a former Louisiana governor who has instead opted to run as a third-party candidate, but for voters interviewed on their way out, only the last two mattered: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. And Santorum mattered to many more than Romney, whose supporters sounded tepid.

But few voters seemed thrilled about their choice in the GOP presidential primary, with some settling on a candidate at the very last minute. And several said they liked Newt Gingrich, but didn't vote for him in the end because they believed he can't win the nomination.

Louis and Norma Pelletteri voted for Santorum, settling on him because he is a family man with Christian values. Louis, 55, a captain with the New Orleans Fire Department, picked the former Pennsylvania senator through the process of elimination. "Each one of them, there's something I don't like about them," he said. "He's the lesser of the evils."

Louis said he thought Romney was too much like President Obama. And Norma, 56, an accounting clerk, said she believed that Gingrich represented "old politics."

David Kopelman, 47, who works in procurement at a shipyard, said he saw Santorum on the television news firing a semiautomatic handgun at a shooting range in northern Louisiana and that caught his attention. He owns about 30 guns.

"Guns is one thing. The right to bear arms," he said. "He's going to be my man."

But jobs is the other thing. Kopelman's shipyard is slated to close next year. He's worked there 26 years. When he started, he said, there were 6,800 employees. Now, he said, there are 4,000. "Work, work, work. Work is the main thing," he said. "I'm putting my faith in him."

George Bucher, who works in health insurance, said he voted for Santorum after listening to him speak. "I followed the race pretty closely," the 52-year-old said, explaining that he was impressed by Santorum's conservative record as a congressman and senator. "I might not be as far right as him on Christian values, but he sticks to his principles."

But Bucher said he had preferred Gingrich for his intelligence, conservative values, leadership skills and political experience. Now, however, he said he believed the former House speaker should exit. "I think he's got too much baggage and he just cannot make up the gap," he said.

Bucher said he believed Romney was "too middle of the road and left of center."

Wayne Softley, 56, who works as a rigging grip in movie production, also said his first choice was Gingrich, but he thinks the former Georgia congressman is too far behind now. "I just figured I'd give Santorum the vote," he said. "I'm trying to make my vote count."

Joseph Natal, who owns a brake inspection business, was inclined to support Gingrich as well, but also chose Santorum. "I didn't want to waste my vote," he said.

The 52-year-old said he was impressed with Santorum's commitment to increase domestic oil production, a major issue in this Gulf Coast state. "I'm for building pipelines all over the place so we're not so dependent on countries that hate us," he said.

Natal said that Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, was too far too the left for him. "He's really, really liberal," he said. "He kind of reminded me of the Kennedys, Ted Kennedy.

Lynne North, a 74-year-old retired paralegal, joked that she chose Romney because he was better looking. "We like Romney, and we like what he stands for," she said.

But her husband, Donald Masinter, 78, a retired salesman, said he didn't know why he voted for Romney. North suggested, "I think he is more well-rounded." But Masinter replied, "I really didn't like anybody that much." He had leaned toward Gingrich because he thought his experience made him the most qualified to solve the nation's biggest problems. "I figured he knew how Washington worked. He'd just fit in a lot faster than the others would." North, however, was turned off by Gingrich. "He's just too sure of himself."

Karen Klaman, a 64-year-old retired teacher, was clear about why she chose Romney. "I think he's the best one to beat Obama," she said. But she said she didn't make up her mind until she went behind the curtains to vote. She said that she believed Romney and Santorum both were family men with good values. Of Gingrich, she said, "Newt's had too many wives for me."

William and Elizabeth Hazen were happy to be voting in the presidential primary that might matter. "Usually, it's a done deal by the time it gets to us," said William, an 87-year-old retired geophysicist. He and his wife, an 85-year-old retired administrative assistant, split their vote.

William went with Santorum. "I think he's a little bit more conservative, but you can't ever tell what a guy's going to do when he gets in there," he said. Elizabeth voted for Romney, but she was at a loss to explain why. "I think she picked him because she thinks he's going to win and she wanted to get it over with," William offered. Elizabeth did not disagree.

Original source: Louisiana primary voters hardly enthusiastic about GOP options

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