Southerners are a diverse group of individuals, in our experience, and they don’t deserve the crude stereotypes that appeared in much of the coverage of Tuesday’s Republican primaries in Alabama and Mississippi. It is hard to resist reaching for the redneck jokes when Jeff Foxworthy is out campaigning for Mitt Romney, however, and both states did wind up voting as the conventional wisdom predicted.
Most of the media types reckoned that southerners wouldn’t cotton to national frontrunner Romney because he hails from way up north in Massachusetts, is too rich, insufficiently rock-ribbed in his conservatism, and is a Mormon. Although it no doubt pained many southerners to prove the media types correct for a change, Romney finished behind winner and Rick Santorum and runner-up Newt Gingrich in both Alabama and Mississippi, the efforts of comedian Foxworthy notwithstanding.
A win in either state would have been a significant boost to Romney’s candidacy, possibly even the knock-out punch that has thus far eluded him, but the losses might prove only a minor setback. He lost to Santorum by a mere three percentage points in Mississippi and was nearly tied with Gingrich in Alabama, results that are quite respectable given the low expectations heading into the races, and because neither contest was winner-take-all his sizeable lead in the delegate count was little affected. By finishing just behind Gingrich he also kept the former House Speaker in the race to split the anti-Romney vote in at least the next round of contests, a nice tactical advantage while it lasts.
The results also suggest that the southerners’ animosity toward Romney isn’t so strong that it would harm his chances in the region during the general election, and they don’t necessarily confirm any media-sanctioned stereotypes. Santorum won despite being from Pennsylvania, which is almost as Yankee as Massachusetts, and despite being a famously devout Catholic, a religion that the media types have long presumed is also anathema to southerners.
— Bud Norman