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Santorum wins Tennessee, Bedford County

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

See precinct-by-precinct results by clicking here. NOTE: Vote totals on chart are based on the sum of individual precinct results, and do not exactly match the final county-wide totals announced by the election office at the end of the evening, which are included in the story below.

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum carried Bedford County by an even larger margin than Tennessee in Tuesday's Republican presidential primary, with a platform of social and religious issues that resonated with conservative voters.

In Bedford County, with all precincts reporting, Santorum had 1,419 votes (41 percent), to 957 (28 percent) for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and 837 (24 percent) for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Romney had the endorsements of Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, State Sen. Jim Tracy and State Rep. Pat Marsh, among others.

Former congressman Ron Paul had 201 votes, or 6 percent, while 6 voters, less than one percent, voted for an uncommitted slate of convention delegates.

Several other candidates dropped out of the race too late to have their names removed from the ballot, including Michelle Bachmann (6 votes), John Huntsman (1 vote), Gary Johnson (4 votes), Charles "Buddy" Roemer (6 votes) and Rick Perry (11 votes). Johnson and Roemer dropped out of the Republican race but are still presidential candidates for lesser-known political parties.

Statewide, with 95 percent of precincts reporting, Santorum had 37 percent to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 28 percent.

Gingrich, who won his home state of Georgia, was unable to repeat his success in neighboring Tennessee despite several visits and a barrage of television ads. He was running third with 24 percent, followed by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's 9 percent.

Light turnout

The Republican presidential primary was the only contested race on Tuesday, and voter turnout was light in Bedford County, with only 3,842 participating.

Four years ago, with no incumbent and competitive races in both parties, voter turnout was 7,312.

In the Democratic primary, Obama got 254 votes or 76 percent, while an uncommitted slate of convention delegates got 73 votes or 22 percent. Assessor of Property Ronda Clanton got 342 complimentary votes, while Road Superintendent Stanley Smotherman received 354 votes. Since no Republicans qualified for either county race, there was no Republican primary for the county offices. Clanton and Smotherman will be unopposed on the general election ballot in August.

Values voters

Santorum appeared in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis in the days before the primary, often in religious settings.

Preliminary results from an exit poll conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press show about seven in 10 Tennessee voters identified themselves as born-again Christians. About three-quarters of them said it mattered at least somewhat that a candidate shared their religious beliefs.

Voter Mary Cecil, who is retired and lives in Sevierville, said the economy is a major issue, but that religion was the deciding factor that led her to support Santorum.

"I would like to have a true Christian in the White House," she said.

Kristy Tarrant, a 55-year-old executive assistant in Memphis, said Santorum's family values and how he dealt with the death of his newborn son led her to choose him in the primary.

"The protection of families in America is the issue that is important to me," Tarrant said.

Tennessee has 55 delegates up for grabs, the third most among the 10 Super Tuesday states. Candidates must gain 20 percent of the vote statewide or within the nine congressional districts to qualify for a share of the delegates.

Romney fails

Romney was unable to capitalize on superior organization in Tennessee and the endorsements of several top state Republicans, including Haslam, Alexander and state House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Romney was leading in just three of the state's 95 counties -- Davidson, Loudon and Williamson. Gingrich carried only Marion County.

The support of Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor, wasn't enough for Romney to carry Knox County, where Santorum won by less than 1 percentage point.

Romney's emphasis on economic issues appeared to fall flat in Tennessee, despite exit poll results showing eight in 10 voters saying that the economy or deficit were their top issue.

The loss denied Romney the opportunity to show he could connect with voters in the South, where conservatives see him as too moderate and evangelicals might have questions about his Mormon faith.

Tennessee does not register voters by party, which means voters from any party may cast their vote in the GOP primary.

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