Santorum Plays Well with Tennessee Church Crowd, Romney Closing Gap

At a Belmont University rally, candidate Rick Santorum spent much of his stump speech on religious freedom. (photo by Stephen Jerkins)

At a Belmont University rally, candidate Rick Santorum spent much of his stump speech on religious freedom. (photo by Stephen Jerkins)

Even as the Republican presidential race tightens in Tennessee, new research from MTSU finds the state’s regular church-goers favor Rick Santorum six-to-one over Mitt Romney.

Santorum supporters seem to appreciate his unwavering stances, particularly on social issues like abortion. Robert Kilmarx of Springfield runs an organization that promotes religious freedom and attended a rally for Santorum last week.

“We don’t need people that test the waters, and when something brings too much heat, they start backtracking. I admire that in a man.”

MTSU pollsters say it’s clear that Santorum’s base can be “found in pews on Sunday morning.” They did not ask voters if Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is a factor in their choice.

While the former Massachusetts governor may not play as well with Tennessee’s church crowd, voters like Faith Boenau of Clarksville say they’re sticking with him. She voted early for Romney, even though she likes what she’s seen of Santorum.

“[sigh] I hadn’t heard enough about him, so I thought, I better go with somebody I’ve actually heard from.”

A poll conducted over the weekend by Rasmussen shows Romney closing what was a double-digit gap behind Santorum in Tennessee.

The latest Rasmussen polls also show Romney tied with Santorum in Ohio and Newt Gingrich with a lead in Georgia going into Super Tuesday.

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