When I woke up this morning, I blogged at CFIF about Newt Gingrich’s appearance in Mobile last night. Read it here. Gingrich had lot of good lines.
That said, I think it is time to update the “lay of the land” blog I did earlier in the week. What I am seeing is an incredibly fluid race in Alabama. Since I wrote that blog post, Romney and/or his SuperPAC have been carpet-bombing Santorum with so many negative ads it boggles the mind. The Gingrich forces also have been attacking Santorum. Santorum’s ads, less numerous, are the ones from a few weeks ago that merely feature news headlines on a black background that say things bad about or embarrassing to Romney. The other two candidates’ ads seem to be coordinated to time with their campaign’s messages of the week, but Santorum’s so far do not. As for Romney’s forces, they attack Gingrich not at all. They seem to recognize that a vote for Gingrich helps Romney, because otherwise nearly two of every three of those votes would likely go to Santorum — so they are happy to tear down Santorum while leaving Gingrich alone.
In southern Alabama at least, Santorum also suffers from having no connections to the GOP party hierarchy at all. They’re all either Romney people or Gingrich people. The Mobile County GOP chair, the impressively energetic Terry Lathan, is on the Gingrich delegate list. Former U.S. Rep. Sonny Callahan is Gingrich’s chair for the southern half of the state. Longtime state Sen. Jabbo Waggoner is the state chair. As for Romney, he’s been endorsed by former Gov. Bob Riley, and a large number (too many to list) of party poo-bahs or elected officials are also withthe Michigander. Santorum, for his part, relied on local Tea Party activists to put together his public rally.
Here’s another odd factor. Unlike in Ohio, where blue-collar Democrats (Reagan Democrats) crossed over more fo Santorum than for Romney, the Alabama system of having no party registration may actually hurt Santorum. Why? Because, at least in the southern third of the state, it might actually cost him a lot of the rural voters he has been attracting in other states. Here’s how it works: In rural areas down here, there still are vestiges of the “yellow dog Democrat” syndrome among some white conservatives, so that in local races the conservatives still run as Democrats. Meanwhile, in the “Black Belt” counties across the south-central part of the state (so named both for its black, loomy soil and for its black majorities), Santorum seems popular both with whites (who may be a minority of the population, but still have significant percentages) and with a fair number of culturally conservative blacks. But he won’t get their votes. Why not? Because in both the white-majority and black-majority rural counties just north or northeast of Mobile, there are a lot of local races on the ballot, especially judgeships. The local judge is a particularly important person in those communities. And in those communities, all the action for the judgeships is in the Democratic primaries. People can vote in either party’s primary, but they must choose one; they can’t vote in both. In this case, a whole lot of them see the local race as the more important, because victory in the primary Tuesday is tantamount to final victory (because in lots of cases nobody has even qualified as a Republican for the fall ballot). So if they vote for judges in the local Democratic primaries, they can’t vote for Santorum at the same time, because you can’t vote in both party’s events on the same day.
Remember how all the rural counties in Ohio went for Santorum? Well, he may not rack up those same sorts of numbers in Bama, for the reasons above.
On the other hand, Santorum really impressed people Thursday night at the dinner for the Alabama Policy Institute. I know several community leaders who went into the evening completely unsure of their leanings but who the next day told me they are now firmly with Santorum. Likewise, Gingrich had a good outing on Friday; I overheard a couple of people leaving the event saying they had entered only leaning to Gingrich but now they were decided in his favor.
As mentioned in an earlier post, Gingrich also has been laying the groundwork here for a while. While Santorum and Romney battled in the Rust Belt, Gingrich concentrated in the South. He was up with commercials here about five days before anybody else was.
Where all this leads is anybody’s guess. Polls are all over the map. It’s hard to tell what effect Santorum’s huge win in Kansas today will have on voters’ choices: Will it move Gingrich leaners back to Santorum? Will it halt Romney’s march to supposed inevitability, and thus stop the bandwagon followers from climbing on?
And will Romney’s failure to appear here (so far) hurt him, since Gingrich and Santorum both did multiple events in southern Alabama?
And I really don’t have a good feel for what’s going on in the rest of the state.
The sense I get is that a very large percentage of voters are still jumping back and forth in their own minds between candidates. Any of the three (but not Ron Paul) could win Alabama. It’s going to be a heck of a ride.