Mar 13, 2012 No Comments ›› Angelia
With polls now closed in both Alabama and Mississippi, the Republican presidential primaries in both states are too close to call.
In Mississippi, Mitt Romney is enjoying a slight lead, which is no small feat for the former governor of Massachusetts in a deep South state. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are locked in a tight battle for second.
Meanwhile, in Alabama, Santorum is ahead at the moment, leaving Romney and Gingrich battling for second place.
The fact that Gingrich is behind in both states is not good news for his campaign, which is pinning its hopes on Southern states after winning Georgia last week and South Carolina in January.
The only thing Fox News can project at this moment is that Ron Paul will come in fourth place in both Mississippi and Alabama.
Exit polls, as they have in prior races, show Romney doing best among moderates on Tuesday. In exit polls out of Alabama, Santorum was pocketing 41 percent among those who describe themselves as very conservative. Gingrich was pulling 36 percent among that group.
The candidates have a lot riding on the results.
Shortly before polls closed, Santorum put renewed pressure on Gingrich to bow out of the race entirely, telling Fox News the former House speaker is making it “hard for me” to win primary contests without having much of a shot at the nomination himself.
The stakes certainly are high for Romney’s rivals. A win for Romney in the deep South would help the former Massachusetts governor prove he has broader appeal. But his competitors are in need of the delegates and momentum, which victory on Tuesday would provide.
Santorum, in an interview with Fox News, prodded Gingrich, claiming “conservative voters across the country have pretty much made a decision.” Santorum noted how he won the Kansas caucuses over the weekend with more than 50 percent of the vote.
“Newt finished well under 20 (percent),” Santorum said. “In most of the states, he is finishing fourth. He is getting enough votes to make it hard for me to win those states, but I don’t think that he is in the mix for getting the nomination at this point.”
Santorum has 217 delegates to Romney’s 454, according to the latest Associated Press tally. Gingrich has 107 and Ron Paul has 47.
After Tuesday’s primaries, roughly half the states will have voted — and Romney still will not have the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, though he will be in a far better position to reach that threshold.
Mississippi and Alabama have 37 and 47 delegates up for grabs, respectively. Hawaii and American Samoa are also holding GOP caucuses on Tuesday.
Santorum said he thinks his campaign has an “excellent chance of getting to the number we need.”
But the Gingrich campaign circulated a memo late Tuesday afternoon claiming the candidate is “well positioned” to win the nomination, citing the numerous Southern contests still on the horizon.
“This race is not going to be won or lost over backroom deals or endless and mind-numbing discussions in the media over delegate counts. This race is going to be decided by a big debate — a big choice — among GOP primary voters about the future of the Republican Party; what it stands for, and which candidate has the most compelling vision and most credibility to carry forward a conservative governing agenda,” Gingrich advisers said in the memo. “That is the debate Newt is going to win, and with it, the nomination and the election.”
Gingrich told Fox News on Monday night that Romney has “fewer delegates than he needs” and that plenty can happen in the second half of the race.
“I think when you look at the second half — think of Louisiana as the equivalent of halftime in a football game,” he said. “The first half was actually better territory for Romney than the second half. And I think as we go through the second half, it gets harder and harder for him to finally get to a majority.”
Romney, while shooting for victory on Tuesday, made clear that he doesn’t consider those contests to be must-win for his nomination chances.
“John McCain didn’t win either of these states, Alabama or Mississippi,” he told Fox News. “We are delighted that we are doing so well there. The polls are suggesting it is kind of a three-way tie. It is an away game for me.”