As Kansas went, so did Douglas County in picking a winner in the Republican Party presidential caucus on Saturday.
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum finished first among Douglas County GOP caucusgoers with 288 votes, followed by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney with 233 votes.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who appeared before a lively crowd at the Lied Center on Friday, placed third with 173 votes, and former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich ran fourth, with 81 votes.
Hundreds of Douglas County Republicans listened to speeches Saturday at Free State High School before voting.
Douglas County Republican Party Chairman Richard Todd said he hoped the caucus would generate excitement in the presidential race and local contests.
“We can’t lose with any one of these four guys,” Todd said referring to the GOP field. Republicans met statewide at 96 locations to select their preferred nominee. The voting will determine how the Kansas GOP allocates its 40 delegates to the Republican National Convention.
Weighing the options
Representatives for Gingrich, Paul, Romney and Santorum spoke to the Douglas County crowd, which filled up the bleachers on one side of a gymnasium at the high school.
Before the speeches, Ronnie Ching, a research analyst, said he was undecided on whom he would support.
Ching said that improving the economy and increasing jobs was the No. 1 issue.
“As a whole, people just need to have hope again,” he said.
He said the divisiveness of politics upset him, and he wanted candidates to focus more on ideas and proposals than prey on people’s emotions.
Brendan Golledge, a 20-year-old college student, attended the caucus to vote for Paul. He said Paul was the only candidate with a “sane” foreign policy who would keep the United States out of multiple wars.
Jon Hunt said he was leaning toward Santorum. Hunt had served as Douglas County campaign chairman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out of the race after several missteps.
Hunt said he would support whoever the Republican nominee is, but added that Romney “hasn’t closed the deal for me.”
Annette Fales of McLouth said she was supporting Santorum for his strong family views and his economic proposals.
Representatives speaking on behalf of the candidates tried to make the case that their candidate was the best one to face President Barack Obama and lead the country.
State Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, said Gingrich’s bold ideas and record when he was House speaker made him the most qualified candidate.
Brown admitted that he was concerned about Gingrich’s personal “baggage” but said he believed Gingrich was now a man of faith and family-oriented.
David Conway, an Iraq War veteran and philosophy student at Kansas University, said that while he was recovering from war injuries he became more interested in politics, and that led him to becoming a Paul supporter.
“A lot of people challenge him on foreign policy,” Conway said. “His foreign policy is obeying the Constitution.”
Tom Murray, an attorney from Lawrence, said Democrats are always attacking Romney because they know he can defeat Obama.
He said the November election will hinge on whether the Republican Party can lure back suburban middle- and upper-income voters in a handful of swing states. Romney is the most attractive candidate to those voters, he said.
Jim Meyer told Republicans to vote for their values and pick Santorum. He said that for the past several years, Republicans have nominated moderates and lost.
“We don’t win when we compromise our conservative values, but only when we stand boldly for them,” he said.
Douglas County leanings
The Douglas County vote total was divided between those who live in the 2nd Congressional District and those who live in the 3rd.
In the 2nd, Santorum received 164 votes; Romney, 150; Paul, 80 and Gingrich, 50. In the 3rd, Santorum got 124 votes, Paul 93, Romney, 83 and Gingrich, 31.
Several candidates who had already dropped out of the race received a smattering of votes, and there were several uncommitted Republicans, blank votes and 67 provisional ballots.
Todd said 855 people participated in the caucus, which was about the same number as in 2008. He said that he wished more people had attended and that voting went off without a hitch.