Gingrich has planted himself in the two states since Super Tuesday, which in the end may prove decisive. Nate Silver, the New York Times’ statistical wizard, has been splitting his time between the presidential race and the NCAA tournament this week. His models for the two states give a very slight edge to Gingrich in Alabama (0.9%) over Romney, with Gingrich having a 48% chance of victory, Romney, 39%, and Santorum 13%.
In Mississippi, the order is reversed – Romney is projected to finish ahead by 0.5%, and has a 53% chance of winning, Gingrich 45%, and Santorum 2%. With so few surveys to evaluate, and the closeness of the poll results among the three candidates, my own sense is that Santorum’s chance may be a bit better than Silver has calculated.
Silver has noted that the most recent surveys in the GOP race this year have proven to be much closer to the final results than surveys taken earlier. With all of the candidates making last-minute pitches in person and in paid advertising, it is possible that Gingrich’s regional familiarity in Alabama and Mississippi may trump Santorum’s more forceful social conservative messaging. In the last few days, Gingrich has been a bit less harsh about Mitt Romney, while Santorum has kept up the volume of his attacks. With most GOP voters believing Romney will be the eventual nominee, and two new polls showing Romney running ahead of Barack Obama, some voters in the two states may simply be signaling that they want to end the GOP fratricide and move on to taking on Obama.
If Romney wins one state and Gingrich the other tomorrow, there will be no quick exits by any candidates. With both Gingrich and Santorum in the race, and Gingrich again on the upswing, Romney will likely continue to win many of the future races with less than 50% of the total vote, as has occurred in many of the states that have already held their primaries. Santorum has clearly connected with a sector of the GOP electorate. But to a larger number of GOP voters, he comes off as a scold, and his presence in the race makes it more likely that issues such as contraception are part of the ongoing debate . The new ABC/Washington Post poll indicates the recent falloff in support for Barack Obama has been, in large part, connected to the rapid rise in gasoline prices.
The GOP will win on pocketbook issues this year, or not at all.