GEORGIA | Low GOP Enthusiasm

Voters in 24 states and American Samoa headed to the polls on Feb. 5 for the largest-ever "Super Tuesday" election. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) racked up crucial early primary victories from New York to California, while former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee won a series of contests in the South.
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

MARIETTA, Ga., Feb. 5 -- The fast-growing suburbs of Cobb County have long been home to political passions, mostly conservative. They were the base for former House speaker Newt Gingrich, and over the years, residents have quarreled loudly over a Ten Commandments display at the county courthouse, gay-rights issues, and whether science texts should include a disclaimer stating that evolution is a theory.

As voters filed out of the polling place at Johnson Ferry Road Baptist Church, however, few seemed to exhibit much passion for the remaining crop of presidential contenders. Up to the last moments, polls showed that, on the Republican side, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas remained in a close race in Georgia, with McCain possibly holding a small advantage.

"There's not one perfect candidate for me this year -- it's very frustrating," said Kim Tatman, 50, a teacher. She said she ended up voting for Huckabee, though she had preferred former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Chris Ensley, 35, a banker, voted for Romney despite uneasiness about the changes in his stance on abortion. "I don't think a Republican is going to win, anyway," Ensley said, acknowledging that he has considered voting for a Democrat in the general election. "A lot of people think it's time for a change."

Phillip Kittell, 48, a financial planner and a Republican voter for more than 20 years, went a step further: He crossed party lines to cast a ballot in the Democratic primary for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). "I've just lost a lot of faith in the Republican Party," he said. "I just don't like the deceptions."

Political analysts have said that many of the South's voters think that each of the GOP candidates has serious liabilities, and that none has emerged as the dominant favorite.

Some voters in Georgia said that they find Romney, a former corporate executive, too slick, too well-dressed. "If there was an emergency like 9/11, I don't know that he could get his hands dirty," said Linda Taylor, 65, a homemaker here. "His pants fit too well. I go by gut, and I don't have a good feeling about him."

Other voters said McCain is too liberal, particularly on immigration and campaign finance. Radio personalities Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have repeatedly bashed him for allegedly compromising too easily with Democrats, and several voters said those broadcasts made lasting impressions.

Huckabee, meanwhile, is viewed as too far behind in the national polls to win the election, though many here said they feel comfortable with his folksy ways.

"Many people in exurbia are rejecting Romney and McCain and looking at Huckabee as the lesser of three evils," said Matthew A. Towery, former chairman of Gingrich's political organization. "What Hannity and Rush are doing is forcing people to rethink McCain -- and go to Huckabee."

Towery added that, though Huckabee has special appeal to evangelical voters, religion may figure less than in previous elections. "Just being evangelical will no longer do the trick in the South," he said. "That being said, Huckabee is sort of a default candidate."

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