A stack of Rick Santorum yard signs sits inside Smith County resident Bob Brewer's home and now have no place to stand in support. Santorum's suspended campaign deflated a surging East Texas contingent of conservatives who believed he was the alternative to the now-likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
East Texas is conservative. A number of recent Democratic defections and 60 percent to 40 percent (70 percent to 30 percent in Smith County during the 2008 presidential election) GOP versus Democratic voting numbers is proof-positive that in a “red” state like Texas, East Texas is conservative-crimson.
Like most local conservatives, Brewer's end-game is a single term for President Barack Obama. But as part of the “anyone-but-Romney” crowd that became enamored with Santorum's conservative credentials, the announcement Tuesday came as a shock.
“I just thought (Santorum) was staying in till the end,” Brewer said. “You need some Santorum signs?”
In recent weeks, Santorum yard signs became a prevalent and expected precursor to a strong East Texas primary showing by a seemingly outmatched, out-funded campaign. Grassroots efforts had tapped into the area's strong Tea Party sentiment.
Mrs. Fletcher said Santorum's pro-life message inspired her to take on the mission. It meant covering 19 counties and cities from Texarkana to Center. She put “blood, sweat and tears,” into the campaign, not to mention her time and money.
“To say that I am devastated is an understatement,” she said. “I feel like we would have carried Texas and would have easily taken East Texas.”
Mrs. Fletcher said the extended primary date and too-little-too-late organization among grassroots believers doomed the campaign. She said no matter the outcome in 2012, the base of conservative organization for 2016 is established.
Coker said he was on board with Santorum's beliefs but that his ideas about addressing the economy and taxes won his support.
After the announcement, Coker ordered a Mitt Romney bumper sticker, he said.
“As of now I am on the Romney campaign trail,” he said.
Although he is not excited about Romney, he hopes the former Massachusetts governor picks a strong conservative, such as Santorum, for a running mate to electrify the GOP 2012 ticket.
“Romney has no argument or ammunition to debate Obama,” he said.
Smith County Republican Party Chairman Ashton Oravetz said he is disappointed to see Santorum drop out because pressure among candidates vying for the nomination “hones (the eventual nominee's) ability heading into November.”
Oravetz said Obama will be an organized, well-funded and difficult incumbent to beat but that the eventual Republican nominee will be supported by conservatives.
Mrs. Fletcher said she will support the nominee but that her efforts for the candidate won't match her support for Santorum. Her Santorum bumper sticker will remain throughout the election process, she said.
“I won't be burning up the roads for Mitt,” she said.
Updated Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 9:16 a.m. CDT