Today is a relatively big day in the GOP nomination battle — with caucuses in American Samoa and Hawaii and primaries in Alabama and Mississippi. The main story is in the South, though. And although this Southern Super Tuesday has relatively few delegates at stake – just 84 are up for grabs between the Alabama and Mississippi primaries – it will likely attract a good deal of attention. It will also offer something we have not yet seen: a roughly equal three-way battle between Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum.
The polls suggest that Romney is currently pulling in about what he managed to get in neighboring Georgia and South Carolina. In Alabama his average in the RealClearPolitics compilation of recent polls is 27 percent and in Mississippi it is around 30 percent; compare that to the 26 percent he won in Georgia and the 28 percent he won in South Carolina.
In those prior two Deep South contests, winning less than a third of the vote was far from enough for a victory, yet Romney could win both states today. Why? The reason is the Santorum surge. Santorum won just 20 percent in Georgia and 17 percent in South Carolina, leaving Gingrich to collect more than 40 percent of the vote in both states. But not this time. Santorum’s secure position as the national second-place contestant seems to have given him a boost in Alabama and Mississippi, so he’s now pulling in five to fifteen percent more of the vote and has an outside shot at victory.