Earlier today, I had planned a post, forecasting a split decision tomorrow in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, with Newt Gingrich winning the former and Rick Santorum the latter. I based this forecast on my reading of recent polls and the candidates’ performances in the recent contests in Southern (and Southern-adjacent) states.
In his native Georgia, Newt did well in rural areas, but Mitt Romney won metro Atlanta as he won the Nashville area in Tennessee and Oklahoma City in the Sooner State. Santorum beat the polling spread in Tennessee (by a considerable margin), yet didn’t match it Oklahoma. The RealClearPolitics average has Romney up narrowly over Gingrich (by 0.2) and more comfortably over Santorum in Alabama and would have him up in Missisippi had they done the average of the most recent polls–but they include only two such surveys.
The mostly dispassionate analyst Nate Silver acknowledge “that polls in these states have a pretty awful track record“; he also notes “some tendency for polls in the Deep South to understate the standing of Southern candidates, but it is not statistically significant.” His blog projects a different split decision from the one I posited:
These projections could mean game over for the former Pennsylvania Senator. Santorum, Jennifer Rubin observes, “needs to beat Gingrich in both Alabama and Mississippi, or risk having a revived Gingrich battle for the ultra-conservative vote for the rest of the campaign.” And Silver doesn’t find it likely that he could win either.
Looking at the numbers of Friday, however, Michael Barone found “something of a surge to Romney in these two states and that any of the three candidates have a chance to win.” Santorum could still beat the odds, especially given the intensity of his support among evangelicals.
My sense is that late-deciders might break slightly for Romney as wavering voters accept the inevitability of his victory. But, the social conservative groups and evangelicals should be able to generate a strong turnout for Santorum. And while Newt may not be a native of the South, he was elected from a Southern state–and that may pull a chunk of the electorate into his camp.
“The talk about Tuesday’s primaries in Alabama and Mississippi,” writes Barone’s Washington Examiner colleague Byron York
. . . has focused mostly on the consequences for Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Would losses here force Gingrich out of the race? Would victories give Santorum his much-desired one-on-one showdown with Mitt Romney? What would it mean if either man won one state and lost the other?
There’s been less discussion about what the Alabama and Mississippi races mean for Romney. They could mean a lot.
He concludes that “a win in Mississippi or Alabama would be huge” for the former Massachusetts governor. “In this ‘away game,’ Romney has more to win than to lose.”
Perhaps Romney has a good ground game in these states. We’ll know tomorrow night. Barone may well have the best read on the situation, with all three candidates having a chance to win.