Santorum goes to Memphis

Once a month we go to Memphis on for a Sunday lunch with my sisters and my parents and all the other relatives (brother-in-laws and 10 cousins, nephews, etc). Sometimes we will attend church at my parents church, Bellevue Baptist. We decided against going this week since we have a guest coming with our family to our church Fellowship Bible Church.

Guess who was at Bellevue this week? Take a look:

Santorum visits Memphis to shore up support; polls show state now a toss up

  • By Scott Carroll, Zack McMillin
  • Memphis Commercial Appeal
  • Posted March 4, 2012 at 10:19 a.m., updated March 4, 2012 at 10:57 p.m.

 Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum takes questions from the media during a campaign stop at Corky's BBQ, Sunday.

Photo by Nikki Boertman // Buy this photo

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum takes questions from the media during a campaign stop at Corky’s BBQ, Sunday.

__________________

As polls showed his formerly huge lead in Tennessee dwindling to almost nothing, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attended church services Sunday in the Memphis area and lunched on barbecue at Corky’s before heading to Oklahoma.

Across the state, in Knoxville, national GOP front-runner Mitt Romney made his first visit to the state in several weeks looking to score a surprise in Tennessee as recent polls showed his national lead growing and his standing in the South improving ahead of this week’s Super Tuesday primaries.

In comments to media after his lunch at Corky’s, Santorum sounded less like a candidate preparing for a triumphant Super Tuesday and more like one trying to keep hope alive.

“Every time you get into these races, as we’ve seen, Governor Romney goes out there and outspends you four, five, six to one. It’s going to take a toll. That’s what’s happened in pretty much all the states,” Santorum said. “That’s why you keep looking at this as a game of survivor.”

Two polls released Sunday showed that a 20-point Santorum advantage over Romney had all but evaporated, and that former House speaker Newt Gingrich was putting himself into position to compete for delegates here.

American Research Group’s poll of 600 likely Tennessee voters Thursday through Saturday put Santorum at 35 percent, Romney at 31 percent, Gingrich at 20 percent and Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 9 percent.

A Rasmussen Reports poll on Saturday of 750 likely Tennessee voters had similar results: Santorum at 34 percent, Romney at 30, Gingrich at 18 and Paul at 8.

Both polls list a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percent, meaning the race in Tennessee is essentially a tossup.

It was unclear how many voters cast ballots early, although the presidential primaries in 2008 saw about 80 percent of voters wait until election day to go to the polls.

Santorum said Sunday a key strategy is narrowing the relevant choices for Republican voters to Romney and one other candidate.

“Again, this race, for us to ultimately win this race, it’s going to ultimately have to narrow down to two (candidates), and I think that will happen eventually,” said Santorum.

Neither Gingrich nor Paul shows signs of surrender.

Gingrich plans three stops today in East Tennessee. One of his supporters in Shelby County, Willis Ayres, said there are plans for Gingrich to appear in North Mississippi ahead of next week’s Mississippi primaries.

“What’s happening is the establishment is trying to shove the moderate, Romney, down our throats,” Ayres said. “But I think if you are going to see anyone overperform in Tennessee, it’s Gingrich, not Santorum.”

Santorum took some shots at President Barack Obama, criticizing his administration’s approach to relations with Iran and repeating Republican assertions that, on energy, “we are not doing anything to open up supply lines across this country.”

Earlier Sunday, Santorum attended religious services in Cordova, at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and Bellevue Baptist Church.

Santorum, a Catholic, arrived at Bellevue with his wife, Karen, and three children, and was in the front row of the mega-church.

Bellevue pastor Steve Gaines brought Santorum and his wife onto the stage for a prayer that mentioned abortion and “immorality.”

At one point, two parishioners placed their hands on Santorum’s shoulders, and the congregation raised hands in a symbolic laying on of hands for the former Pennsylvania senator.

The appearance at one of the South’s largest Southern Baptist churches came on the same weekend The New York Times examined Santorum’s faith. According to The Times: “Unlike Catholics who believe that church doctrine should adapt to changing times and needs, the Santorums believe in a highly traditional Catholicism that adheres fully to what scholars call ‘the teaching authority’ of the pope and his bishops.”

Santorum recently drew harsh criticism from liberals and conservatives for saying a 1960 speech by the nation’s only previous non-Protestant president, John F. Kennedy, made him want to “throw up” because of its insistence on separation of church and state.

The visit also came as Santorum tried to hold his advantage in the South over Romney, whose own Mormon faith has been a factor in his struggle to build a stronger following among religious conservatives, particularly in the South.

Romney started his day in Georgia and moved to Knoxville in the evening, looking to solidify a likely second-place finish in Georgia and trying to overtake Santorum in Tennessee, where Romney is backed by most of the state’s top-ranking Republicans, including Gov. Bill Haslam.

The Knoxville News Sentinel contributed to this story.

Super Tuesday voting

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the state’s presidential preference primary and Shelby County’s primaries. Voters must cast ballots at their assigned precincts and must provide a state- or federal-issued photo ID in order to vote.

© 2012 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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