The Republican Party is holding two primaries this evening that could prove to be decisive (no, really this time.) Alabama and Mississippi are heading to the polls in contests that give frontrunner Mitt Romney the chance to show that he can win in the South (outside Florida) and finally put to rest the argument of his opponents that he can’t win over more conservative southern voters.
Mike Allen writing at Politico sums it up well:
“If Newt Gingrich loses the primaries in both Mississippi and Alabama, after being tied for first in each, he could be effectively out of the race. If Gingrich wins both, he has a fresh rationale for going forward and denies Rick Santorum the chance for a one-on-one – ensuring that no non-Romney can accrue anywhere the delegates needed to deny Mitt Romney the nomination. If Santorum wins both, he has an argument to go on, despite little shot at the crown. If Romney wins both, he can say he has won in the deepest South, Michigan, Ohio and Florida – case closed.
Robert O’Brien, a senior Romney adviser, sounded upbeat when I asked him about tonight’s contests, and what would count as a good night for the former Massachusetts governor.
“Gov. Romney will take another important step toward securing the Republican nomination. At this point, the contest is about amassing delegates. He will win a significant number of them tonight. The media is focused on Southern primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, where Gingrich and Santorum have run strong. I would not, however, be surprised to see Governor Romney win an upset victory in one or both of these states as Republicans look toward the general election against President Obama,” he told me.
“Almost ignored are two contests in the Pacific – Hawaii and American Samoa. Mitt is competing hard in both of these elections and may sweep all 29 delegates on the Islands. Gov. Romney's ability to run a strong campaign nationally – from Samoa to Selma – is why he will be the nominee and why the Obama campaign is so concerned about running against him in November.”
This primary contest has left commentators confounded, and the Gingrich campaign in particular was widely pronounced dead twice already. But the fact that the Romney campaign has been the most careful to dot the I's and cross the T's, especially in these smaller contests, is really starting to show now.