By: Corey Ealons
Are we really surprised at the results in the Super Southern GOP primaries? Examine the folks who voted last night and it’s no wonder that Rick Santorum prevailed once again. White, working-class, far right conservatives, who relish social issues and less government intervention, dominated the electorate. However, Mitt Romney’s clumsy mismanagement of the expectations game (he predicted he would win one of the primaries) is what gave Santorum’s wins in Mississippi and Alabama a bigger bump than they maybe deserved.
While it is huge that Santorum beat Newt Gingrich in the former Georgia congressman’s own backyard, that is basically the equivalent of defeating a political corpse. More on that later.
As a Deep South political operative with roots in Alabama, I can tell you a few things about our politics. If you’re not from the South, don’t try to fake it. We hate phonys and can smell them a mile away. Also, outsiders rarely appreciate the nuances of Southern primaries of either party. Ask Hillary Clinton, who had the money and establishment in 2008, but lost the Alabama primary. We have to wait until Election Day for the big reveal.
Romney may have actually hurt himself coming south of the Mason Dixon line and talking about grits and saying “y’all” (another silver foot in mouth moment). To say the polls got it wrong is a dramatic understatement. The one thing Romney needed most in the South he had the least: authenticity. This year’s Super Southern primaries may have revealed more about the candidates and the state of the race than Super Tuesday. Several things are very clear right now. While Romney may own the minds (and establishment) of the Republican Party, it is clear that Santorum is rounding up more hearts (and the base) of the party every day. Santorum went into the regional base of the GOP and defeated not only the presumptive frontrunner, but the native son in Gingrich.
No small accomplishment for the former Pennsylvania senator, and a real boon as we make the shift into the third stage of the primary campaign. Anyone who has observed politics at any level is aware of the three M’s: message, money and momentum. A candidate generally needs all three to win. However, for this discussion I’ll add a fourth: mechanics. It’s argued that once all of the factors are on your side, your campaign really begins to take off. The problem with the GOP field right now is that the M’s are split among the candidates.
Romney has the money, which is allowing him to run a mechanically competent campaign giving him the delegate argument — an eventuality argument that sounds weak at best and defeating at worst. However, he is starving for a message — a simple, credible justification for his campaign. Ultimately, Romney’s campaign is one in search of a soul, which contributes to his failure to make the leap from presumptive to prohibitive nominee.