Santorum returns to Tupelo ahead of GOP primary

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum worshiped in Tupelo on Sunday before shaking hands with a throng of supporters at Sweet Peppers Deli.

It’s Santorum’s second Tupelo stop in less than a week, and this time the former Pennsylvania senator was hosted by incumbent congressional candidate U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss.

Accompanied by their wives, the men ate breakfast at Connie’s Fried Chicken, worshiped at Calvary Baptist where the Nunnelees are members, and then hit Peppers before parting ways.

A Catholic, Santorum also attended the 8 a.m. Mass at St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo. He was welcomed by Father Tom Lolar and was received warmly by the congregation.

He will need to connect to the overwhelming number of Protestant Mississippians to carry the state. By worshiping with Nunnelee at a well-known Baptist church, he earns some credibility in that area.

Their joint appearances could help both Santorum and Nunnelee politically, although neither of them said so.

For his part, Nunnelee needs to woo Tea Party conservatives whose support leans more toward congressional opponents Henry Ross and Robert Estes in this campaign. Santorum has high Tea Party approval, and an appearance with him boosts Nunnelee’s standing in that regard.

Santorum’s presence at Calvary was low-key but earned a mention from the Rev. David Eldridge, who publicly welcomed him and praised his religious convictions on the campaign trail. He also said the congregation would pray for him.

Afterward, the two families and their entourage of campaign staffers and Secret Service agents stopped for lunch at Peppers on West Main Street.

Hundreds of people swarmed the restaurant for a glimpse of the presidential candidate. Tupelo police officers and firefighters were camped outside the building.

Among the well wishers was Tishomingo resident Leslie Whitlock who traveled just to see Santorum. She considered herself undecided in the presidential primary until meeting Santorum. Now he’ll get her vote.

“It’s nice he took the time to talk to everybody and pose for pictures,” Whitlock said. “I really like him and his wife.”

Tupelo resident Jason Darnell said Santorum is the only presidential candidate who has remained consistently conservative during the campaign.

“He’s pro-life, he has strong social values,” Darnell said. “He’s a family man.”

Santorum spent about an hour at Peppers shaking hands and chatting with patrons. He then took media questions and filmed a brief spot for Fox News.

The candidate called Mississippi a critical state in the campaign and said he stands a good chance of winning it.

“People in Mississippi will vote for conservative values,” Santorum said. “I offer a stark contrast to Obama.”

Nunnelee told the Daily Journal he’ll vote for Santorum on Tuesday.

Santorum faces former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, in the GOP presidential primary. Four other candidates also are on the ballot, even though they’re no longer in the race.

Mississippi has 40 delegates to award.

emily.lecoz@journalinc.com

On the Ballot
REPUBLICAN PRIMARY BALLOT
President
• Michele Bachmann
• Newt Gingrich
• Jon Huntsman
• Gary Johnson
• Ron Paul
• Rick Perry
• Mitt Romney
• Rick Santorum

U.S. Senate
• E. Allen Hathcock
• Robert Maloney
• Roger Wicker

U.S. House of Representatives
• Robert Estes
• Alan Nunnelee
• Henry Ross

DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY BALLOT
President
• Barack Obama

U.S. Senate
• Albert N. Gore, Jr.
• Will Oatis
• Roger Weiner

U.S. House of Representatives
• Brad Morris

Visit DJournal.com Tuesday night for complete election results.