The two southern states up for grabs on Tuesday are truly that — no one candidate has established a lead in either state according to polls. But while three candidates are within two points in the last two surveys of Alabama, Mississippi may be boiling down to a two man race between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Who actually has the lead, however, is anybody’s guess.
Very early Monday morning Public Policy Polling (D) released a poll of Mississippi that showed Gingrich with a very small lead, 33 percent to Romney’s 31, with Santorum further back at 27. Other recent polling shows Santorum further back, with one in which he’s tied for second. In short, the trend shows Newt and Mitt fighting for the state, but either have a held a lead in recent polling, by different amounts.
At issue, like it has been all along in the Republican primary process, is the conservative vote. While Gingrich and Santorum continue to fight each other for the right flank, Romney maintains his small coalition of moderate Republicans, which gives him about a third of the vote. But with such a large group of conservatives to persuade, the other two candidates have more room to maneuver in Mississippi and Alabama, even in a three-way race. From PPP’s analysis:
The reason Romney has a chance to win despite being less popular in both states is the split in the conservative vote. In Mississippi 44% of voters describe themselves as ‘very conservative’ and Romney’s getting only 26% with them. But he’s still in the mix because Gingrich leads Santorum only 35-32 with them. In Alabama where 45% of voters identify as ‘very conservative,’ Romney’s at just 24%. But again he remains competitive overall because his opponents are so tightly packed with those voters, with Santorum at 37% and Gingrich at 31%.
It’s not really clear who has the momentum in these states. In Mississippi folks who’ve decided in the last few days go for Gingrich over Santorum 37-29 with Romney at only 15%. But in Alabama the late deciders go 38-29 for Romney over Santorum with Gingrich at 23%.
At the moment, it looks like neither pollsters nor the campaigns will have much clarity before Tuesday night’s results — it’s truly a toss-up in the deep south.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.