Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Live-blogging the 2012 Alabama and Mississippi primaries: A Santorum sweep, but Romney remains the likely nominee

By Michael J.W. Stickings, with Richard K. Barry and tmcbpatriot (and a special guest appearance by Mustang Bobby)


7:10 pm - There's really only one way to begin this...

7:12 pm - Don't get me wrong, I like "Sweet Home Alabama" (by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mitt, not Alabama, you pandering fool), just not so much what it's about.

7:14 pm - It's pretty much all about the Deep South tonight, with primaries in Alabama and Mississippi. And it's a tight race in both states. I'll be back with a whole lot more shortly. Just having some dinner first. See you soon. 

8:01 pm - And here we go! Can you feel the excitement? 

8:03 pm - So what's going to happen? Who really has any idea? According to the RCP averages, it's Newt up by a whopping 0.2 in Alabama, but Romney was up by a point or two in a couple of the most recent polls. Santorum's been running a strong third, just a point or two, or six, back. Paul? Single digits, way back. Where you'd expect to find him in the socially conservative Deep South. 

8:08 pm - In Mississippi, it's Newt up by a slightly more whopping 2 in a PPP poll and Romney up by 8 in a Rasmussen one -- there hasn't been a lot of polling there. Let's say Romney's in the lead. 

8:10 pm - As Politico's Jonathan Martin writes, stating the obvious, Romney could pretty much seal the deal with victories in Alabama and Mississippi tonight. And with Gingrich and Santorum splitting the conservative, and otherwise anti-Romney, vote, he could very well pull off the double, as astonishing as that would seem to anyone who's been paying attention. Why astonishing? Because Romney is anything but a man of the South. In addition to being a Mormon, hardly a popular thing to be in the fundamentalist South, he's a northeastern establishment Republican and ex-moderate. To the extent that he's a national figure, he links Utah, Michigan, and Massachusetts, three un-southern states. (Well, Utah is sort of southern given its social conservatism, but of course it's largely Mormon.) Romney just doesn't connect with the South, particularly the Deep South, and vice versa. We've already seen this. Gingrich won South Carolina and Georgia and Santorum won Tennessee. (Florida doesn't count as southern. Sorry, panhandlers.) 

8:16 pm - And Romney's pandering leading up to these two primaries has been even more pathetic (and creepy) than usual. (Did you see Jon Stewart last night?) He opens a speech with "y'all," talks about eating cheesy grits, pretends to be a football fan (some of his friends are NFL owners!), and asks the lead singer of Alabama, Randy Owen to sing a song, "Sweet Home Alabama," by a different band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. (Watch the clip. It's hilarious. Mitt's so far out of his privileged rich douchebag element.) In other words, it was the same old same old, just worse, just more ridiculous, more worthy of our ridicule. 

8:23 pm - Oh, here's one of our long-time contributors, our assistant editor Mustang Bobby (and a fantastic blogger): 

Mustang Bobby: The Republican primaries tonight are in Alabama and Mississippi, so tomorrow we will find out which of the three surviving candidates will have done the most pandering to the ignorant bigots and homophobes that make up the majority of the GOP in those two states. Which is saying something. 

8:38 pm - And here's Richard, who will be commenting throughout the evening: 

RKB: Is there anything more boring than news coverage just before election results come in? CNN is running through the most snooze-worthy details about how the votes will be counted in Mississippi. The reporter actually just said, "Here's the table where the ballots will be counted," Oh, man. 

8:39 pm - I suspect we're in for a long night... The networks want drama. They're going to get it. Or, at least, they're going to manufacture it by talking incessantly about how in both states it's Too. Close. To. Call.

8:44 pm - Oh, continuing my point about how Romney could pull off the astonishing double tonight, let's not forget that Romney winning wouldn't mean much of an endorsement from Republican voters in Alabama and Mississippi. Whatever the final results, he's not likely to get anywhere near a majority of the vote. What we're talking about is a close three-way split in both states, with Romney winning by a fairly narrow margin and only getting about a third of the vote.

8:46 pm - Of course, it doesn't really matter. Both states award their delegates proportionately, so in the end there won't be much movement in the overall delegate count. Romney will keep his seemingly insurmountable lead and all three -- Mitt, Rick, and Newt -- will be able to say they did well today. And the race will go on to the bigger battle in Illinois (an open primary where Democrats could boost Santorum the way they did in Michigan) on March 20 (with Puerto Rico, not to be forgotten, on March 18). The big question is what Newt does. If he finishes third in both races today, or even if he doesn't win either race, will he get out? Or will he continue to split the anti-Romney vote? The writing has been on the wall for some time for him, but he either doesn't see it or doesn't care -- or is just waiting for the right time to acknowledge it, a time when he can get out with his brand, Newt Inc., still intact and as profitable as ever.

8:52 pm - And here's our newest contributor, tmcbpatriot of the blog Take My Country Back. If you've been here recently, you'll know him from his posts as the fourth Mrs. Limbaugh, Kathryn Rogers, and, today, as Ann Romney. Good stuff.

tmcbpatriot: Honestly, if Romney wins either of these states I will be amazed. It will prove two things... 1. that commercials paid for by wealthy Romney donors really work, and 2. that people down south are not as dumb as we all think. Like I said... I will be amazed if Romney wins.

8:58 pm - In terms of trying to predict what's going to happen in Alabama and Mississippi, it would appear that the polling itself is the problem (as throughout the Deep South). As Nate Silver writes, "polls in these states have a pretty awful track record." And why is this? Because of "social desirability bias -- the tendency to provide an answer that you think might seem most acceptable to the stranger on the other end of the line, rather than what you really think. This bias is potentially stronger in cultures that have stronger codes of etiquette, and where people are more self-conscious of the front they present to strangers." Like in the Deep South. What this means is that poll respondents may not be telling us what they really think. It's not clear whom this would help, but I wonder -- and this is pure speculation -- if Santorum may actually do a bit better than expected in both races, if only because right-wing poll respondents might be reluctant to tell pollsters that they support him. (Then again, as Silver notes, it could benefit Romney, if respondents in these right-wing states are reluctant to admit they support a moderate establishmentarian.)

RKB: John King on CNN is talking a lot about the fact Alabama and Mississippi award their delegates proportionately. So, as long as the leading candidates do well enough, it won't change the delegate count all that much. In other words, it might all just be about bragging rights, which is a little silly, especially if the margin of victory is slight. Political contests as sporting events. Just win, baby, even when winning is marginally important in real terms.

tmcbpatriot: "Republican primary voters in Mississippi and Alabama overwhelmingly said the economy is a more important issue than the federal budget deficit, according to exit poll data." -- Amazing to me how the very red states want more Republicans to help them "improve" their already stellar economies. Will they ever learn?

RKB: I know it's early, but at this stage Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum are very close to 1/3 each of the vote in both Mississippi and Alabama. If it did stay like that, no matter where Romney ended up, he'd still be able to say that he was competitive in the Deep South. I don't think he necessarily has to win to put this away, only match the guys, more or less, who should have buried him -- if it ends up this way.

tmcbpatriot: Romney's squeaking out a lead thus far. Maybe he really did eat cheesy grits for breakfast.

RKB: David Gergen is pointing at that results are coming in painfully slowly in these two states. He's right. What's that all about?

9:11 pm - Because they can't count? I mean, it's not like education's a big deal down there.

9:12 pm - After that comment, now might be a good time to mention that I`m actually one-quarter Alabaman. Yes, seriously. I'm Canadian and British (mostly the former), but one of my grandfathers was from Alabama. Great man. Served in the Army during WWII. Was injured on one of the beaches on D-Day, if I remember correctly, then went into broadcasting, first with the U.S. military in Europe (where I think he was one of the first Americans to broadcast from post-war Germany), then back home. He did baseball play-by-play, among other things. Anyway, I have a lot of family down there. Good people. I don't see them nearly enough. (More family history later!)

tmcbpatriot: Man... looking at the exit polling to the myriad of questions at CNN is mind-numbing. It is all over the map. Nobody knows what the heck they want. In one poll Romney is the guy to beat Obama and then in another poll more people would be satisfied with Gingrich or Santorum winning the nomination over Romney. And a majority said that ad campaigns were a large factor in their decision-making process. Ad campaigns! Commercials!! Lord help us all.

9:19 pm - By the way, here are the updated results: Alabama, Mississippi, and, for later, Hawaii.

9:20 pm - Santorum's taken the lead in both states, though it's still very early, especially in Alabama. I'm not sure yet, but this could be another case where he (and possibly Newt) do well early in the more rural counties, until the count comes in from the more Mitt-friendly urban centers.

tmcbpatriot: "NBC News has changed its categorization of both Alabama and Mississippi from 'too early to call' to the much tighter 'too close to call.'" -- Wow! What a scoop! I really do find it amazing that these people actually get paid for doing this.

9:42 pm - Earlier today, Romney said that Santorum's campaign is coming to a "desperate end." This is the narrative he's trying to spin, of course, that he's the inevitable nominee (and has actually won already) while his rivals are running on fumes, but... it's just not true. Sure, he's got the money, and he's been crushing Santorum with his spending, but does Romney not remember how well Santorum did last week on Super Tuesday? -- winning Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota and almost pulling out a win in Ohio? And does he not realize that Santorum likely would have won Ohio, and possibly also Michigan, without Gingrich in the race? Look, yes, Romney will very likely be the nominee. But he's one to talk about being desperate. He's winning only because of his outrageous financial advantage (and his support from the party establishment). And even with that huge advantage he's still struggling. Badly. He's an incredibly weak frontrunner. And Santorum has a lot left in the tank.

tmcbpatriot: CNN is losing its mind with this 24 hour news thing... This video was posted at TPM tonight. And the polls only just closed! A long night indeed!

tmcbpatriot: The L.A. Times has Gingrich in second place in Alabama with Ricky in first with 12% reporting. I do love it so. I love to imagine Romney wondering why the hell he just can't close the deal.

tmcbpatriot: On The Rick & Bubba Show today, "Gingrich won a ringing endorsement from bass-fishing legend Ray Scott, who called into the show." First of all, there is a bass-fishing "legend"? And second, we want people who prop up a person to become a "legend" in bass-fishing deciding our future?

tmcbpatriot: And by the way, if you've ever wondered what a bass-fishing legend thinks... Here he is talking about Gingrich: "He is just the most qualified man, my gosh, almighty. We've seen proof positive that when you don't know what you're doing you shouldn't be doing it... The man has got sober, sober, deliberate focus on what's going on in this country, and what its needs are and, Lord knows, we don't need any more of what we've got. We've got to have some relief and I think Newt is an absolute God-blessed gift to us. And if we don't get out and vote for this guy today somebody ought to be ashamed of themselves."

9:54 pm - Genius.

tmcbpatriot: Romney is trailing in Alabama and Mississippi, with Ol' Miss at 50% reporting! Ruh-roh!

9:58 pm - Wait, no speech from Romney tonight? Has he run out of southern cliches? Is Jeff Foxworthy too busy to write him a few lines?

RKB: Eugene Robinson on MSNBC is saying that if Santorum wins both Alabama and Mississippi it could actually start to change things. The big question is what Gingrich does. If he got out soon, it might actually start to make Santorum viable. How screwed up would that be? I can't see it, but who saw Romney being this weak?

10:02 pm - Richard, shouldn't we put up our hands? We've been talking about Romney's weakness since, like, forever.

RKB: I know Michael, but there's weak and there's weak. This guy is pathetic.

10:03 pm - Point taken.

tmcbpatriot: Ouch! Rico Suave takes Alabama!

RKB: Lawrence O'Donnell, always one for the pithy comment, just said that "Republicans are having a three-way in Mississippi." Now that's an image.

10:07 pm - Maybe you should offer them your basement.

10:08 pm - Huh. It's very tight in Mississippi, with Santorum up 33 to 32 over Gingrich, with Romney in third, but still in striking distance, at 30. 79% reporting. Romney's doing well in and around Jackson, but it's hard to see where he picks up the votes. Counties yet to report, or still early, don't look like Mitt strong holds.

10:10 pm - Santorum's doing better in Alabama, leading 35 to 30 over Gingrich, with Romney also in third, but much further back, at 28. 48% reporting. Still a long way to go, and Romney will pick up a lot of votes in Birmingham and especially Mobile (just 1% reporting in the latter). Let's see if, when, and how dramatically this narrows.

10:14 pm - Interesting that Romney is doing well along the Gulf Coast in both states. Who are the voters there? Transplants from up north?

tmcbpatriot: Santorum's about to take Mississippi too. Like I said... amazed if Romney won. Republicans are just too dumb for their own good. I can hear the collective forehead slap in D.C. from my house.

RKB: Steve Schimidt is talking about how wounded Gingrich will be if he fails to win Mississippi, saying that there will be immense pressure on him to get out. I've thought that Gingrich would stay in just to promote his brand, but I'm no longer sure. His so-called Southern Strategy may be too much of a joke by now. And will there be any money for him to run on or will his big casino donor just go away? I'm so hoping Gingrich gets out. Schmidt is now predicting Gingrich will get out soon. We'll see.

tmcbpatriot: Put a fork in this thing. That didn't take long at all. Romney is still the weakest frontrunner in history. He will still be the nominee, though. This election is just too important for Republicans to throw away. No matter what, it will be Romney. He has to win the nomination. It is just that simple for the establishment, and, make no mistake, the establishment is still very much in charge, regardless what Rick, Bubba, or the bass-fishing legend thinks.

tmcbpatriot: Right about now Romney is thinking... "I actually said 'y'all' and pretended to eat grits, and I still lost? I just don't understand it. Gosh darnit!"

10:21 pm - Just try to imagine Mitt sitting down to a steaming plate of grits, collard greens, pork hock, and corn bread. Can't do it, can you? Lynyrd Skynyrd would have hated him almost as much as Neil Young.

10:24 pm - Go Santorum! I shouldn't be this excited.

10:26 pm - Did you know that American Samoa is holding its non-binding caucuses today? Prediction: Mitt crushes the opposition.

10:27 pm - So what was I saying earlier about Santorum doing better than expected? The polls showed him running third in both Alabama and Mississippi, and yet here he is winning Alabama, the biggest contest today, and likely Mississippi as well. There's the double. Hardly Mitt sealing the deal, eh? Sorry, all you professional pundits (Nate Silver excepted, of course) getting it so badly wrong because you don't understand a thing, or at least because you grossly underestimate Santorum, what he stands for, and who his supporters are. Though you want the drama of Romney-Santorum to continue, you'll also wring your hands over the unpredictability of this race (and try to make excuses for not having a clue).

RKB: I've also been saying that I couldn't imagine the GOP establishment letting Romney lose the nomination. Maybe the delegate count, the math, as they say, will do it for Romney, but I have to start wondering if there is a path for Santorum, or at least a brokered convention. The base is so fragmented that the establishment may not have the authority it once did. Having said all that, I still think Romney will eventually take it, but I'm starting to waver.

10:35 pm - Of course, Romney will revert to his "away game" narrative. As in, he wasn't expected, and really shouldn't have been expected, to win in states like Alabama and Mississippi. That's Santorum and Gingrich territory. This is true, to a point. In a fairly competitive race like this, no one is going to win everywhere, and just as Santorum and Gingrich do well in the South, Romney does well in the Northeast and West. And if and when Romney becomes the nominee, he'll win these hardcore Republican states in November. The problem is that his weakness in the South speaks to his broader weakness with the party's base (and indeed with the vast majority of Republicans). And it's especially telling that he's doing so badly even against two weak challengers like Santorum and Gingrich. Just imagine what a strong, credible conservative would be doing to him -- like, what we thought Perry might do, until we realized he's a moron.

10:40 pm - The problem for Santorum is twofold: Newt and money (and the advertising and organization he can buy with it). But if he wins both Alabama and Mississippi (he'll lose Hawaii), and Newt gets out (which Rick thinks would be "great"), and the money starts rolling in (not that he'll ever have enough to outspend Romney, but at least he could close the enormous gap), and he's seen more and more as a viable alternative to Romney, well, Illinois would be within reach, no? And then what?

tmcbpatriot: I just don't see Santorum taking the nomination if there were a brokered convention. By the time this thing ends, Republicans would have to be certifiable to bring some new candidate into the mix. No, at the end of the day, if they are all at a brokered convention, then Romney takes it. Sure, it will make the Tea Party mad, but within two weeks nobody will remember any of it and Romney will be their guy who will then choose a VP who will turn this thing into a real race.

RKB: Gotta say, Santorum appears to be more disciplined with his economic message in his speech. No messing around with his absurd social conservatism. Yes, he's onto the Pennsylvania coal miner lineage. Oh, and there goes the mention of the "centrality of faith in our lives." That's safe enough and it also sends a message to the religious right that he can be counted on.

RKB: I understand Romney is not speaking tonight. I suppose it would look sad to have him stand up and explain yet another pair of losses.

10:49 pm - I think it would be funny if he just got up and sang the opening lines of "Bohemian Rhapsody," then left the stage in complete silence, a single tear trickling down his face.

tmcbpatriot: Were the pundits really predicting a Romney win tonight? Who in particular was suggesting such a thing? William Kristol? George Will?

10:52 pm - I'd have to go back and look at what was said the past few days. But it seemed to me that some of the less thoughtful of the bunch were looking at the polls, saw Romney ahead, and took it all at face value. (Just look at the Politico article I link to above.) I was worried about Romney wins, too. All the more reason why someone like Nate Silver is so valuable.

RKB: CNN called Mississippi for Santorum. It will be interesting to hear what Gingrich has to say.

10:56 pm - He's a massive egomaniac, but surely even he can see that enough is enough.

tmcbpatriot: What could Romney say in a speech? "Well, we lost, but we lost by only a little?" It's the smart thing to do not to give a speech. He will say he didn't do much campaigning and Santorum had the evangelicals in hand, etc. But still... if he wins the nomination, every singly one of those southerners will pull that lever for Mitt no matter what. He could choose Hillary Clinton as his VP and they would still vote for him because they hate Obama that much. I mean, let's face it. I would have voted for the "Rent is Too Damn High" guy over McCain-Palin.

RKB: Gingrich's whole thing is about being able to beat Obama in the debates. Dream on. What an arrogant dick. Well, he's not getting out tonight. Too bad.

11:31 pm - My recommendation for the night: Watch Will Farrell on The Daily Show. Hilarious.

11:32 pm - The current headline at CNN.com: "Santorum's Southern sweep." A tad dramatic, given that the delegates are awarded proportionately, but, okay, let's run with it. Sweeeeeep!!!!!

11:37 pm - Did I mention that we saw this coming, that we said that Santorum would do better than expected in Alabama and Mississippi, that he might just pull this off? Well, okay, we didn't go so far as to say that he'd win both primaries, but we were almost there. And certainly this isn't, or at least shouldn't be seen to be, a surprising outcome.

11:42 pm - Alright, that's it for me tonight. We've gone on long enough. I had hoped to do Hawaii as well, not to mention American Samoa, but those results won't be coming in until much later. We'll have something to say about those races tomorrow, or sometime down the road. And hopefully we'll do this live-blogging thing again, which we've done numerous times already this primary season, next Tuesday, for Illinois.

11:45 pm - Thanks to Richard and tmcbpatriot for their contributions tonight. It's usually just Richard and me, but it was great having our new friend on board. Nicely done all around. (Oh, I've changed the subtitle of this post from "Tight races in the Deep South, but Phony Romney remains the likely nominee" to what you see now, "A Santorum sweep, but Romney remains the likely nominee." Because, you know, the races were tight, but Santorum swept. I also removed the reference to live-blogging the Hawaii caucuses. Because, you know, we're not doing that. Nothing against Hawaii. It's a time-zone thing.)

11:46 pm - We'll be back with new posts tomorrow.

Good night, everyone.

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