The three main contenders for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination virtually split the vote in primary elections in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday.
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both of whom claim to be the conservative alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney, failed to stage a decisive victory in the Southern states which were expected to be unfriendly territory for Romney.
Santorum’s strong social conservatism resonated with evangelical voters but Romney outperformed both him and Gingrich, as he has done in other states, among wealthier and urban voters.
Exit polls revealed that most of Santorum’s supporters decided to vote for the former Pennsylvania senator while Romney was winning primary races in Arizona, Michigan and Ohio last week. Theirs may not have been a vote for Santorum rather a vote against Romney whom they consider to be a moderate because he once favored abortion rights and implemented a health insurance scheme in Massachusetts when he was governor there that is strikingly similar to President Barack Obama’s national health reform law.
As long as Gingrich remains in the race, Santorum will be hard pressed to consolidate the right-wing vote to challenge Romney who is well ahead in the delegate count and whose campaign organization is far superior to that of the other candidates.
Although Gingrich is a native of Georgia, where he won the primary contest convincingly last week, none of the contenders could claim to be a true son of the South perhaps except for Texas congressman Ron Paul. His libertarian views are diametrically opposed to Southerners’ social conservatism however and he failed to make an impact in the Alabama and Mississippi votes.
He former House speaker hadn’t lived in his home state for decades until he first stood for election in 1974. He hoped to do well in Georgia’s neighboring states but Santorum did better among right-wing voters and managed to narrowly defeat Romney despite Gingrich’s presence in the race.
Gingrich has vowed to soldier on but is no longer credible as either a regional or viable candidate.
In Alabama, were 47 delegates were at stake, Santorum picked up at least eighteen compared to Gingrich’s twelve and Romney’s eleven.
In Mississippi, were 37 delegates were selected, Santorum won thirteen compared to twelve for both Gingrich and Romney.
The two states will also send three unbound delegates to the nominating convention in August each. Because these are usually local party leaders, Mitt Romney, if he is the heir presumptive, would probably win their support.
There were also primary elections in American Samoa and Hawaii on Tuesday. Mitt Romney won the most delegates in these contests as he did in Guam and other Pacific island territories on Saturday.