The hemming and hawing by Louisiana Republicans over the Bayou State’s irrelevance in the presidential candidate selection process during the last few election cycles is being replaced with some self-satisfied chest thumping. Turns out Louisiana counts this time around.

With a closer-than-anticipated race between frontrunner Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — and with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul nipping at their heels — Louisiana Republicans are being heavily courted by the field of candidates ahead of tomorrow’s primary. At stake are only 20 delegates, which will be awarded proportionally to candidates who receive more than 25 percent of the vote. But state GOP Chairman Roger Villere tells the Christian Science Monitor what’s really at state is the “perception of momentum.”

Romney is coming off a big win earlier this week in Illinois, but a new Public Policy Polling survey finds Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who runs strong among evangelical voters, poised to grab most of the Louisiana delegates at play Saturday. The PPP poll shows Santorum leading Romney 42 to 28 percent, with Gingrich (18 percent) and Paul (8) brining up the rear.

pollAll four candidates are pressing the flesh at various locales in Louisiana today: Romney is jetting from Metairie to Shreveport; Gingrich is making stops at Port Fourchon and New Orleans; and both Santorum and Paul are making appearances at Louisiana College in Pineville.

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