By Billy Davis
One-third of Republican voters in Panola County selected Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, in Tuesday’s presidential primary.
Republican voters across Mississippi cast approximately 85,000 ballots for Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator. He narrowly finished ahead of Gingrich, who garnered approximately 80,700 votes.
Former governor Mitt Romney, who is considered the front-runner, finished third in the state with about 77,950 votes.
Santorum, Gingrich and Romney split Mississippi’s delegate count while Ron Paul, the fourth-place finisher, won none. He got 11,342 votes statewide.
Despite Santorum’s double wins in Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday, Romney remains ahead in the delegate count. The former governor has 495 delegates compared to 252 for Santorum and 131 for Gingrich according to press reports.
The candidates must win 1,144 delegates to clinch the GOP nomination.
In Panola County, unofficial returns show Gingrich won 908 votes, or 34 percent, of 2,651 votes cast in the Republican Primary.
Romney finished second with 839 votes while Santorum finished third with 790 votes.
The fourth-place finisher was Ron Paul, who garnered 85 votes from Panola Countians.
“I voted for Governor Romney because I believe he’s the only candidate who can win in November,” said Ty Austin, 27, who voted Tuesday at the Tocowa precinct.
“I voted for Newt and I’ll do it again if he gets lucky,” Pamela Ledbetter announced in a Facebook posting, where The Panolian solicited opinions from voters.
Facebook user Terri Chandler also posted about her vote Tuesday, stating that she also voted for Gingrich.
“He knows the territory, he knows the routine and he knows who he can and can’t trust,” Chandler said of the former Speaker.
She went on to describe Romney as a “flip-flopper,” an issue that has plagued the moderate Republican among more conservative voters.
“My feelings for Romney are the same today as they were the last presidential election,” Chandler wrote. “I do not trust him not to ‘flip-flop’ or ‘back-track’ on the health care issue or on immigration.”
In a second GOP primary, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker won 89 percent of Panola County votes over two challengers. He won statewide as well.
In the Democratic Primary, Congressman Bennie Thompson easily won the party nomination over challenger Heather McTeer. He will face Republican Bill Marcy in November.
Thompson handily won Panola County with 89 percent of 2,689 votes cast.
Panola County and two other counties, Grenada and Yalobusha, have moved into Thompson’s 2nd Congressional District after redistricting found the district had lost approximately 30,000 people since 2000.
McTeer campaigned heavily in all three counties, courting new 2nd District voters. In Panola County, she won only 270 votes, about 10 percent of ballots that were cast.
Elsewhere on the Tuesday ballot, U.S. senate candidate Albert Gore Jr. won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate and will face Wicker in the November general election.
Gore won in Panola County with 57 percent of the vote.