SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney prevailed Saturday in Missouri's regional GOP conventions, as some former supporters of Rick Santorum switched allegiances in what they characterized as a show of party unity.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, carried half of the 24 delegates being decided at Missouri's congressional district conventions. But the results also ensured that Missouri's delegation will have mixed loyalties when it arrives at the Republican National Convention in August.
Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who suspended his presidential campaign earlier this month, won seven Missouri delegates on Saturday. Four delegates went to Texas Congressman Ron Paul and one to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Most of the rest of Missouri's 52 delegates will be decided at a state party convention in June.
Santorum had carried every county in Missouri when he won February's non-binding presidential primary, for which he was the only candidate to campaign. That symbolic victory breathed new life into his presidential bid for a while, but Santorum suspended his campaign April 10 in the face of increasing fundraising troubles and mounting Romney victories.
Although Romney hasn't spent much time campaigning in the traditional swing state of Missouri, he was able to prevail Saturday at the regional conventions because some former Santorum backers threw their support to him.
"It has crushed many of us that Rick has quit," said Bill Kartsonis, of Lake Winebago. He added: "So I will, with much heartfelt twisting, now be a Romney delegate."
Kartsonis was part of a "unity slate" of new Romney converts that won at 4th District convention in Sedalia. They defeated an alternative slate that would have allotted one delegate each to Romney, Santorum and Paul.
"At the end of the day, I think everyone in this room wants a change of president come November. We must be united to do that," said Cooper County Republican Chairman Gary Harris, of Boonville, who supported the Romney delegates.
Romney similarly picked up all three delegates from southeast Missouri's 8th District. Paul won all three delegates from the 5th District in the Kansas City area. At each of the other regional conventions, the delegates were split among two or three presidential candidates.
The roughly 2,000 Republicans who participated in the regional conventions were elected earlier this year at county and township caucuses that, at times, turned contentious. St. Charles County's caucus in March grew so disorderly that it was shut down and extra police were called in to disperse the crowd, forcing a do-over caucus several weeks later.
Although the debate was at times spirited Saturday, the only police involvement came when attendees at the St. Louis convention were temporarily ushered to the parking lot. St. Louis Community College campus police cleared the cafeteria where the Republicans had been meeting on the understanding that their allotted rental time had expired.
But the Republicans were eventually let back inside after it was clarified they could continue to pay on an hourly basis, said Dan O'Sullivan, who served as the temporary chairman for the 1st District convention. The group ultimately allotted one delegate each to Romney, Santorum and Paul.
"It was contentious and trying, but in the end I think everybody felt like they got a fair deal," O'Sullivan said.
Missouri House Majority Leader Tim Jones, who served as the convention chairman in the 2nd District in suburban St. Louis, said participants awarded two delegates to Santorum and one to Romney out of respect for Santorum's strong showing across the state.
But Jones, a Santorum supporter, predicted that most or all of the 25 delegates to be allotted at the state convention would go to Romney as he further establishes himself as the likely Republican nominee.
Missouri's three other delegates are reserved for the party chairman and the state's two national committee members.