OKLAHOMA CITY — Rick Santorum won Oklahoma's Republican primary Tuesday, faring best among voters who said they sought a "true conservative" and a candidate with "strong moral character" to represent the party in this fall's campaign against President Barack Obama.
With 75 percent of the state's 1,961 precincts reporting unofficial returns, Santorum had 35 percent of the vote. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had 27.3 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had 27 percent.
Santorum made Oklahoma a priority and visited the state twice in recent weeks, calling it "ground zero of the conservative movement." Four years ago, Obama failed to win any of the state's 77 counties.
The former Pennsylvania senator said Oklahoma fit him well and that he appealed to the conservative base of the Oklahoma Republican Party. Exit polling showed 75 percent of voters considered themselves evangelicals.
Several voters lamented during voting Tuesday that they were not satisfied with any of the four candidates remaining in the GOP primary race. Exit polling conducted for The Associated Press and other media showed that about half of Oklahoma voters identified themselves as "very conservative" and another quarter said they were "somewhat conservative."
Santorum won nearly half the support from the very conservative group and about two-fifths of the somewhat conservative group.
He also won Tennessee during the Super Tuesday primaries and proclaimed at a rally in Ohio that he was the candidate best equipped to beat Obama in the fall.
But in Oklahoma, Romney won among those seeking a candidate who could defeat Obama and Gingrich won more than half of those who said a candidate with the right experience was their top priority.
Oklahoma was dubbed "the reddest of the red states" after Obama's poor showing here four years ago, and Santorum visited twice in the last month. His strong opposition to abortion and gay rights hit home with Linda Turner, a retired nurse from Norman who considers herself a born-again Christian.
"I think he is very strong," Turner said after casting her ballot for Santorum at the Freeman Baptist Church in northeast Norman. "He doesn't waiver or fluctuate like Obama. Santorum, I feel like he would stand on the morals that our country was based on."
Rendon Chambers, a political science student at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, said he voted for Romney, believing the former Massachusetts governor's experience heading the private equity firm Bain Capital best positioned him to address the nation's economic problems.
"Rick Santorum is way too far right and Newt has way too much baggage," he said. "I believe Romney has the ability to reach across the aisle and work with members of both parties."