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Romney wins Arizona presidential primary

Romney wins Arizona presidential primary

CREATED Feb 28, 2012

Web Producer: Marissa Pasquet

WASHINGTON (AP) - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won Arizona's primary Tuesday, with exit polls showing he earned support from a broad cross-section of Republicans.

Jobs and the economy topped the list of issues most important to Arizona's GOP voters, exit polls showed. But they were split on what to do about the issue of illegal immigration, which has embroiled the state in controversy in recent years but has lost its overarching status recently.

Voters were split almost evenly in thirds when asked if illegal immigrants should be deported, allowed to stay as temporary workers or offered a chance to apply for citizenship.

According to exit poll results, Romney captured pluralities of support from voters across sex, race, age education and income.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was even with Romney only among voters who called themselves "very conservative."

Even among voters who said they strongly support the tea party, Romney and Santorum were about even.

Romney drew overwhelming support from fellow Mormons and had about the same support from Catholics as Santorum, who is Catholic.

Each captured about one-third of the Hispanic vote, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas splitting the rest. Gingrich has been considered the favorite for Hispanics on the issue of immigration as he was the only candidate to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country.

But less than one in 10 voters were Hispanic, and political watchers said voters here were weary of primary rhetoric and ready for a more mature debate on the issue.

Many voters cast early ballots, but retired civil engineer Quinn Hutchinson, of Phoenix, was among those who voted the traditional way. He waited until the final day to throw his vote to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"I had it between Romney and Newt, and I decided that Romney has the experience in government that he needs to go in (and) start from the beginning, not be a president in training," the 84-year-old said.

T.F. Muenter, a 64-year-old retiree in Phoenix, also voted for Romney.

"I like him," Muenter said. "I think he has a lot of good ideas, better than the other guys. I hope he wins it all."

But husband and wife Joe and Evelyn Turany, of Phoenix, said Romney was too rich and too arrogant to win their favor.

"It would be like exchanging one snob for another snob," Evelyn Turany said. "There is no way a man that wealthy can understand my position."

They voted for Santorum, saying he offered the most conservative values and comes off as the most honest.

"He's a lesser of four evils," said Evelyn Turany, a 75-year-old retired high school teacher. "He's more conservative, and I'm a little tired of the government providing funds to kill babies."

Just under 52 percent of the state's registered Republicans voted in the state's 2008 presidential primary, but Maricopa County Election Director Karen Osborne said turnout this year likely will be in the 40- to 50-percent range.

This year's Arizona primary was overshadowed by Michigan's contest on the same day.

Both states have nearly the same number of delegates, but Arizona's contest is winner-take-all, giving a candidate not expecting to win the statewide vote little incentive to campaign in Arizona.

Romney was the only candidate to run ads in the state. There was little in-person campaigning by candidates other than right before a debate held in Mesa last week between Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul.

The debate itself focused on national issues rather than Arizona topics, though illegal immigration and border security did get some attention.

Marilyn Riggs, an elementary school employee who described herself as a liberal to moderate Republican, cast her vote for Paul at a school on the edge of downtown Phoenix. She said Paul is the best candidate to shrink the size of the federal government.

"It was not a difficult decision," said Riggs, who picked Paul as her candidate a few months ago. "I am tired of some of the rhetoric from the other candidates. I am tired of some of the ultraconservative issues that have nothing to do, in my opinion, with what the government should be doing and how to govern and how to spend the money."

In Flagstaff, Tim Pomeroy, a 48-year-old locksmith, voted for Santorum, saying he was drawn to the senator's message.

"I just like everything he's saying," Pomeroy said. "It's going to be lower taxes and smaller government. The larger the government, the smaller the citizen."

Jerry Slade, 63, of Flagstaff, voted for Gingrich. He said Gingrich was able to work with Democrats in the past and has a solid backbone in politics. "If he was our nominee, I think he would be one of the strongest ones to straighten out our country," Slade said.

Arizona will send 29 delegates to the Republican convention. That's half of the normal allotment and reflects a penalty imposed because the primary is being held before March 6.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)