Is Dixie Derailing Mitt’s Dream?

On Monday, I posted an analysis of the various exit polls leading up to the Mississippi and Alabama primaries, based on key factors within the GOP party coalition and how Mitt was doing (or, in some cases, how Mitt wasn’t doing very well). 

Well, now we have two more contests, and most noteworthy, they are bothDeep Southstates.  First, a little bit about the importance of the South in the modern GOP strategy when it comes to winning the White House.

Since Reagan’s creation of the modern GOP in 1980,Dixiehas figured prominently in the modern GOP coalition.  Having transformed itself from the once solidly Democratic South, the South’s presidential tendencies lie squarely in the GOP camp—and the Republican Party benefits from the region’s support. 

In 1980, 130 electoral votes came from the South, and Reagan won 91% of them (118 votes) in his defeat of Southerner Jimmy Carter.  Thirty years later, in George W. Bush’s run for the White House, he won 100% of the Southern electoral votes. 

But in 2008, Obama was able to crack that solid Republican presidential domination of Dixie, with McCain only securing 64% of the region’s electoral votes.

Without the Southern base, it is difficult to imagine Republican presidential candidates cobbling together a winning coalition for the White House.  Thus, the GOP nominee must rely on a Southern strategy if they want the Oval Office.

In the previous posting, there were several key facets of Mitt Romney’s run that gave me pause: while he had a fairly decent showing among self-identified Republicans (averaging 42 percent support in the primaries held up to the Alabama and Mississippi contests), his support among Southern Republicans (South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee) was less than stellar: 28, 25, and 29 percent, respectively.

Then cameAlabamaandMississippi—and a one and two point increase.  In other words, 70% of Alabama GOP primary voters and 69% ofMississippiprimary voters voted against Mitt.  Not something you want to call home about and brag.

What is absolutely astounding is the consistent pattern in Southern states: 28, 25, 29, 30, and 31.  It would appear that if Mitt ran for the Republican nomination in 2032, he might make the 40 percent mark with Southern Republicans —and I stress, might.

As many commentators are more than willing to say, Southerners are conservative—very conservative, in fact.  And the exit polls—including deep redAlabamaandMississippi—show another weak point for the presumptive front-runner. 

As if self-identified Southern Republicans are slow to warm to Mitt, it’s even worse among very conservative voters. FromSouth CarolinaandGeorgiaat 19% toTennesseeandAlabama’s 18% andMississippi’s 22%, very conservative Southern voters are looking to ABM—anybody but Mitt.

White evangelicals and strong supporters of the Tea Party — core groups of Southern Republicanism — also haven’t found their way to cast ballots for Mitt.  From a tepid (19-25%) Tea Party support to a 19-29% range among white evangelical/born-again Southerners,Dixiejust isn’t high on Mitt. 

Finally, to add injury to insult, those Southern Republican primary voters who believe that the most important quality in their presidential candidate is that the nominee be a “true conservative,” an average of only 5% — yup, five percent — of those voters cast their ballot for Mitt.

With all this bad news, one would be prone to say about Romney’s chances the tried and true Southern saying: “Bless his heart.” 

But Mitt’s one saving grace is that the overwhelming number of Southern voters say they want a candidate to defeat President Barack Obama, and there is where the Southern love is for Mitt: he actually got the majority of the vote of Alabama Republicans who want to defeat the president.

In the South, we can tolerate a lot—heat, humidity, even transplanted Yankees trying to tell us what we’re doing is wrong and how we should be doing it.  But when it comes to presidential politics, no matter how many “y’all’s” and “cheesy grits”* you profess, it’s like drinking tea without the sugar — it just ain’t done. 

*By the way, it’s “cheese” grits—“cheesy” is what people think of you when you’re trying to pull a fast one. 

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