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By Kim McConnell, Lawton Constitution Writer

Area Republicans apparently don’t like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and seem to be leaning toward Rick Santorum, although they are ready to support the Republican who has the best chance of beating President Barack Obama in November.

Seven Lawton-area Republicans expressed their views on the 2012 presidential election, Republican candidates and the Republican Party in general during a focus group discussion conducted Thursday by SoonerPoll.com.

While the seven vary in age, the degree of conservatism at which they ranked themselves and exactly who has the best chance of beating Obama, they agree with or consider themselves “Tea Partiers” who believe the Republican Party must stop its internal bickering and focus on the business of nominating a viable candidate to reclaim the White House.

Focus Group of Republican Primary Voters in the Lawton Area

SoonerPoll.com partnered with the Lawton Constitution to bring you a focus group of Republican Primary voters in the Lawton Area.  During the Focus Group, which was held on Feb. 16, 2012, participants discussed candidates and other primary issues.

The split among preferred candidates seems to be reflective of the party as a whole: Many focus group members said they expect to see a “brokered convention,” predicting no one Republican candidate will secure enough delegates to cast himself in the role of party nominee by the August convention.

Four of the seven said Santorum has their vote. Two are undecided, while one supports Newt Gingrich and another Ron Paul.

The split among preferred candidates seems to be reflective of the party as a whole: Many focus group members said they expect to see a “brokered convention,” predicting no one Republican candidate will secure enough delegates to cast himself in the role of party nominee by the August convention.

It was Ralph Mattioli who first predicted Republicans will see a brokered convention.

“The Republican Party is not ready to anoint anyone yet,” he said, drawing nods from almost every other member of the group.

Georgia Williams said that may be the best tactic, explaining the party “made a great mistake when
we took McCain as our candidate (in 2008). The elite Republican establishment is behind Romney, but
he does not have the support of the grassroots and Tea Party,” she said, explaining Obama is inadequate because he has surrounded himself with inadequate advisors and she predicted Romney would do the
same thing.

Focus group members said they don’t think Romney’s religion will be an overwhelming issue, especially among the party’s young voters, but some acknowledged they know people who won’t vote for him specifically because he is a Mormon.

“I think it can,” said Colleen Miller about the impact of Romney’s faith, explaining she listens to Christian radio and heard one woman say she can’t support Romney because he is Mormon.

“I’m not electing a religious leader,” Williams said, noting she’s casting her vote for a secular leader.

Both women said Romney’s faith won’t affect their decision and Ronnie Graves said he doesn’t believe religion will affect most voting Republicans.

“It’s a nobrainer,” he said, of Republican voters who are searching for the best candidate to beat Obama. “I’d vote for a Mormon before I’d vote for Obama.”

Ken Lowmiller said the issue of Romney’s faith is similar to arguments in the late 1960s that John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism would keep him out of the White House, and he doesn’t believe the question of faith is even a consideration for the party’s younger members.  Mattioli agreed.

“Barack Obama is the driving force for all our votes,” Mattioli said. “I don’t care who (the Republican nominee) is.”

So who is electable?

Lowmiller said the best qualified candidate is Newt Gingrich, noting the candidate has an impressive background, is a strong debater and has worked well with Democrats. Gingrich did have personal problems, but he has overcome them, Lowmiller said.  Mattioli said Gingrich also is helping to destroy the Republican Party, explaining Gingrich is among the Republicans who are tearing down members of their own party, someone willing to unleash “a barrage against anybody he thought would be better than him.” That bickering and back-biting drew criticism from every member of the focus group, with Williams noting it has fragmented the party and “will make it easier to get us beat.”

Joe English said he is supporting Ron Paul, noting that, among other things, he likes Paul’s stance on overseas intervention. He said the nation has a knack for getting involved in foreign affairs best left to the countries in question.

“We’re going to use the American strong arm thing. That don’t always work,” he said.

English also noted rumors that Romney will ask Ron Paul to be his running mate, a move that could bring many more people into Romney’s camp.

“People who are for Ron Paul will vote for him until his name isn’t on the ballot,” English said.

Four other members of the focus group said Santorum has the best chance to win in November. Graves said he likes Santorum’s stance on God, family and country.

“The moral fabric of this country has been destroyed in four years,” he said, noting Santorum will reverse that trend.

Lowmiller said Santorum is strong on family issues, while Miller said he is strong on defense. Robert Hernandez, who is supporting Santorum, said he brings much to the table, noting of Gingrich, another
popular choice, “Newt sounds so good, but he brings baggage in.” Lowmiller said Gingrich won’t be the only candidate to arrive with baggage.

“Obama’s baggage hasn’t been brought out yet,” he said, noting of the Democrat president “now he has

Focus group members said Obama’s decisions as president will be used against him. Hernandez said the nation’s military might has slipped in the Obama years, noting “Iran laughs at us.”

“All we’ve done in the last three years is go around and apologize,” Graves said, noting budget cuts could be made to tighten up the military “without cutting it to the bone.”

Lowmiller said the nation can’t have a president that “goes and bows” to foreign leaders.

“I almost lost a TV over that,” English said, drawing laughter from other members of the group.

“What we’ve lacked in the last three years is common sense — and not just in the White House,” Graves said.

The focus group said Republican party leaders don’t or won’t understand what rank and file members want.

“The Republican elite are not in tune with the grassroots,” Lowmiller said.

When Shapard asked members to identify the Republican elite, Miller said they are “the heads of the party,” while Mattioli identified them as “Republicans inside the Beltway” and Williams said the party’s elite are those controlled by big money and “don’t want change.”

Shapard suggested that, in Oklahoma, the Republican elite got behind former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys in his bid for U.S. Senate, the race that took Tom Coburn to Washington, D.C., as Oklahoma’s senator.   Coburn, who said he won’t serve more than two terms, drew a positive response when Shapard suggested him as a possible vice president candidate.

“He’ll fight the battle until it’s over,” Graves said.

But, Mattioli said Coburn won’t do anything for the ticket, so he won’t get the nomination.

“We need someone who will help win a national election,” he said. “The reality is: This nation won’t elect a true conservative.”

Williams said the issue is name recognition, explaining “Nationwide, Tom doesn’t have it.” Graves disagreed, saying Coburn is a good choice because “he’s a man of principle, a man of common sense” and it is crucial that Republicans exercise common sense when designating a presidential nominee.

Who will be the final choice for Republicans?

“We need to go back to God, family and country,” Hernandez said. “Those three things tie the country together.”

Editor’s note: SoonerPoll.com, an Oklahoma public opinion polling firm recruited, at random, nine Lawton-area Republican voters for a focus group discussion of the Republican presidential primary candidates and the June primary. The focus group was moderated by Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll.com, and held at the offices of The Lawton Constitution. Although a focus group is not intended to be representative of the population at large, the participants selected are geographically diverse and support a variety of candidates.




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