Republicans Eye Louisiana Vote

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Tomorrow sees Republican voters in Louisiana heading to the polls in the latest primary contest, but as Howard Kurtz has noted today over at The Daily Beast, the media may now be losing interest in this stage of the presidential race. And that’s not particularly good news for anyone except frontrunner Mitt Romney.

One of those still hoping for a change in the Romney-as-the-inevitable-nominee narrative forming once again is Newt Gingrich, who has spent time campaigning on what should be friendly southern territory. I’ll be at a town hall-style meeting he’ll be speaking at today at Tulane University in New Orleans. But in the meantime, I thought I’d get a take on tomorrow’s contest from Brian Brox, an assistant professor of political science at Tulane and a specialist in U.S. campaigns and elections.

Rick Santorum has been riding high in the polls here, with the latest Public Policy Polling numbers showing him at 42 percent, compared with Romney’s 28 percent. Newt Gingrich is in third place, with 18 percent.

So, is a Santorum win inevitable?

“Inevitable is a strong word, but Santorum does appear to have a solid lead in multiple polls leading up to Saturday’s voting,” Brox told me. “What will be important is the margin of victory.  Does Santorum win big, or can Romney make it close – and can Gingrich finish with a decent percentage?”

The South hasn’t, aside from Florida, been friendly to Romney so far, and some have speculated that the former Massachusetts governor might struggle to rally conservative voters behind him in November if he does indeed become the nominee. Certainly, as I’ve mentioned before, the turnout in some of these primaries suggests something of an enthusiasm gap among Republican voters.

But Brox believes that Louisiana voters will still accept Romney if he becomes the nominee. “Regardless of what his Republican rivals say about him, he’s certainly more conservative than Obama, and most voters in this state are conservative.  I can't imagine the Republican nominee, whoever it is, not winning Louisiana in November.”

And the big issues that Republicans and Democrats will be campaigning on in Louisiana in the lead up to November?

“Besides the big national issues – the economy in general and job creation – Louisiana voters will also be interested in the two candidates’ energy plans,” he told me. “The oil and gas industry is a major economic force in this state, and Louisiana voters will want to know if the next president will have an energy policy that continues to emphasize domestic petroleum production, or if attention and resources will be focused on other energy sectors.”

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