By Randy Krehbiel World Staff Writer

OKLAHOMA CITY — The hearts and minds of Oklahoma Republicans are pulling them in different directions as the state’s GOP presidential primary approaches.

Survey results released Tuesday by SoonerPoll.com show that Oklahoma Republicans think former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has the best chance of beating Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama but that Newt Gingrich is a stronger leader and more experienced.

But they like former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Seventy percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of Santorum, with only 14 percent unfavorable.

He rated first among the four Republican candidates for honesty and trustworthiness and as the candidate who best understands the problems of average Americans.

Gingrich edged Romney as the strongest leader among the four and had a big advantage in the leadership area.

Romney, though, was identified as the person most likely to beat Obama. Forty-three percent said Romney would be the best candidate if victory in November is the primary objective, compared to 23 percent for Santorum and 19 percent for Gingrich.

Ron Paul, the only one of the four whose unfavorable rating (49 percent) was higher than his favorable rating (36 percent), did not top other candidates in any category.

“What we’re seeing from Santorum is kind of lateblooming,” said Republican consultant Karl Ahlgren. “A lot of Oklahomans didn’t know a little-known … senator from Pennsylvania.”

Sheryl Lovelady, a former Democratic consultant, said that “I think it’s interesting when ‘Beat Obama’ is a characteristic across the board that remains very high.”

“I don’t think it’s sustainable,” she said. “Voters want to be for something, and not just against something.”

Read the rest of this article online at tulsaworld.com

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