Alabama and Mississippi GOP Primaries: What to Watch
by Clint Akarmann | Stanford University
Today, it is Alabama and Mississippi’s turn to share in the GOP primary spotlight, as voters there help to decide the fate of what has, so far, been a drawn-out race to the Republican convention in August. Despite the seemingly endless cycle of polls and “breaking news” updates that characterize most political coverage, the basic storylines entering into tonight’s primaries have, for the most part, remained quite constant since Super Tuesday. Here is a quick recap of where each major candidate stands at the moment:
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney undoubtedly confirmed his spot as the frontrunner following the Super Tuesday contests and hasn’t looked back. However, he continues to be dogged with questions about GOP voters’ supposed apathy to his platform and campaign in general. Romney continues to poll strongly with wealthier Republicans, but he has struggled with Evangelical voters and with those who did not attend college, a weakness that has not been helped by several Romney gaffes casting him as “out of touch” with mainstream Americans. Yet, the forecast is quite bright for Mitt, with several commentators touching upon the near “impossibility” that another candidate will catch up in the delegate count and overtake Romney by the convention.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum emerged from Super Tuesday with several strong wins, but also with a sense that he could have done more, especially following his razor-thin loss in the crucial battleground state of Ohio. Santorum has made veiled attempts to push Newt Gingrich out of the race, in order to have a clear matchup against Romney. Santorum has had his share of media issues, as his controversial comments about JFK and college education shocked many political elites but did not seem to have turned off many voters in Santorum’s key constituencies (namely religious voters like Evangelicals and those especially concerned with social issues).
Newt Gingrich’s Georgia ultimatum paid off for him on Super Tuesday, but it remains to be seen whether he can take his unofficial “back-from-the-dead” campaign theme to another level in Alabama and Mississippi. Gingrich has zeroed in on the economy in the past few weeks, with a special emphasis on rising gas prices (importantly, an issue that tends to rally voters of all stripes together).
Ron Paul has had several moderately-strong showings in the past few weeks, and his strategy of gaining as many delegates as possible (especially in caucus states where he can mobilize his dedicated supporters) has been decently successful. It remains to be seen how the GOP will treat Paul’s candidacy down the road, or whether they will make any special attempts to appease his supporters. It is important to note that Paul has routinely done very well with younger voters, who back his message of liberty and actual reform in government.
Having recapped the race so far, it is now time to specifically look at the Alabama and Mississippi primaries. Here are some factors that will come into play:
1) Romney’s Southern Problem: Throughout the nomination race, Romney has struggled to win votes in Southern states, especially from Evangelicals. Following his solid wins on Super Tuesday, Romney has doubled down on Alabama and Mississippi, bringing along with him his best Southern drawl to woo the locals. A win or close-second in either of the two primaries would be a great success for the Romney campaign, and a sign that he is beginning to coalesce support in the conservative base as a whole.
2) One Candidate Too Many?: It is no secret that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are going after the same types of voters, especially in Southern states. The question is, will Gingrich drop out to give Santorum the one-on-one matchup with Romney that he is yearning to have, or will Gingrich stay on till the convention despite only winning a few more states, at most? It should be interesting to see how the relations between these two candidates develop, especially in the wake of the Alabama and Mississippi primaries.
3) Do the Results Even Matter?: While some believe that a strong showing by Gov. Romney will be a big step towards him clinching the nomination, will this at all faze Romney’s challengers or cause them to drop their bids? From the looks of things, the answer appears to be “No.” The liklihood of a long, drawn-out race to the convention grows larger each day, especially since candidates are able to bankroll their campaigns through the generosity of essentially one individual. Look for the pundits to continue speculation about whether a drawn-out race will pose a great threat to Republicans in the general election against President Obama. If nothing else, Alabama and Mississippi may only confirm what we knew, and perhaps others feared, all along.Clint Akarmann is a NGJ Editor and current freshman at Stanford University. He is interested in majoring in economics and enjoys following politics and current events while also spending time with his friends and family.