TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum hoped to lock down a victory in Kansas' GOP caucuses with two rallies Friday but faced grumbling from tea party activists for skipping their big rally in the state's largest city.
The former Pennsylvania senator figures to do well in Saturday's voting as he looks for a post-Super Tuesday victory to help him collect delegates to the party's convention and chip away at the lead built by the front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Santorum enjoys strong support among abortion opponents who are a powerful constituency within the Kansas GOP, including leaders of Kansans for Life.
Romney received a boost when Kansas GOP icon Bob Dole, the 88-year-old former U.S. Senate majority leader and 1996 presidential nominee, urged fellow Kansans to support him. But Romney wasn't expected to visit before Saturday's caucuses, possibly hurting his chances of picking up some of the state's 40 delegates.
Santorum planned an event at a former Union Pacific railroad depot in Topeka, followed by a rally at a Wichita airport before leaving the state to campaign again in the South. His wife, Karen, was holding a cookies-and-coffee reception at his state headquarters in downtown Wichita.
Some tea party members were frustrated that Santorum wouldn't attend their rally. They spent $25,000 to rent the Century II arena in downtown Wichita and expected 1,000 to 3,000 people to attend.
"It seems like it is counterproductive to show up for an event that is going to have 300 people in an airplane hangar instead (of) 3,000 people in a nice setting where you can actually contact and really maybe sway somebody," said Craig Gabel, the president of Kansas For Liberty, which organized the Wichita event.
Gabel said Santorum skipping the gathering was a sign of tension between tea party members and Kansas GOP officials. He suggested the GOP had discouraged Santorum from attending. Santorum state coordinator Greg Cromer said it was a scheduling issue, and that tea party leaders were informed early.
"We basically already had committed to the schedule," Cromer said. "There hasn't been anybody discouraging anybody."
Romney remained the leading GOP candidate with victories in six of the 10 states that voted Tuesday. Santorum won in three states and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won in his home state of Georgia. Texas Rep. Ron Paul has yet to win anywhere.
With Romney not expected to visit Kansas and Gingrich canceling a scheduled visit to concentrate on the South, Paul was the only presidential candidate participating in the tea party event. Paul also was having a town hall forum in Topeka.
Associated Press writer Roxana Hegeman in Wichita also contributed to this report.
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