Romney Looks to Upset Rivals in Ala., Miss.

Romney Looks to Upset Rivals in Ala., Miss.

By Erin McPike - March 12, 2012

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The two-state Dixie Primary being held Tuesday is envisioned by Newt Gingrich as his chance to show how much stronger he is than Mitt Romney in traditional Republican strongholds. And Rick Santorum sees it as a chance to show that he -- and not Gingrich -- is the true conservative alternative to Romney.

But the front-runner has ideas of his own. Despite public disclaimers from his campaign that the South is not particularly friendly territory for him, and that they don’t expect victories in Alabama or Mississippi, there are signs that Romney’s camp is all in for a win, especially in this state.

On Friday, the former Massachusetts governor appeared in Tarrant, Ala., with Randy Owen (pictured) of the band Alabama, and over the weekend the campaign announced that Romney will return to the state for a last-minute stop Monday morning in Mobile. He’ll be joined by Jeff Foxworthy, a comedian and Georgia native famous for his Southern “you might be a redneck” shtick.

And on Sunday, the team unveiled Ann Romney’s schedule for Monday -- three campaign stops in the Heart of Dixie. Mrs. Romney’s schedule has picked up in recent weeks, but holding three events on her own in one day is somewhat unusual. She’ll appear in Montgomery, Birmingham and Huntsville, three cities where the campaign hopes to turn out a high concentration of voters in the surrounding suburbs.

Alabama is not only the more likely place for a Romney win, it is also the bigger prize. The population of 4.8 million is significantly higher than Mississippi’s (just under 3 million), which translates into more congressional districts and delegates (50 in Alabama, 40 in Mississippi). And that helps explain the strategy for the last-minute emphasis on this state.

Add to that the volatile polling that has cropped up over the past week in Alabama, and it’s clear there’s a real race here. In fact, the latest RCP polling average for the state finds Romney ahead by 2.3 percentage points. Data in Mississippi is incomplete.

Said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams: “We hope to do as well as possible in Alabama and Mississippi and continue to earn delegates in each state to add to Governor Romney’s overall delegate totals.”

In Alabama, 21 delegates are awarded on a proportional basis via congressional district -- but if a candidate breaks 50 percent in a district, he gets all three delegates. Thus, it’s worth the extra effort to keep Santorum’s vote totals down to deny him any extra delegates. Another 26 are allocated proportionally based on how the whole state votes.

Romney held a couple of events in Mississippi last week but doesn’t plan to return there. In fact, he’s skipping out of the South on Tuesday to campaign in Missouri ahead of that state’s Saturday caucus.

Conversely, last-minute campaigning could help lift Gingrich or Santorum to wins on Tuesday.

Santorum’s wife, Karen, spent Sunday campaigning on her own in Alabama. Her husband held five events in Mississippi over the weekend and will appear at two more this morning. By the early afternoon, he’ll be in Alabama for a Tuscaloosa rally before heading to Birmingham for a forum with Gingrich and then to another rally in Montgomery.

Gingrich has a lighter schedule: He’ll appear at the same energy summit in Mississippi that Santorum is scheduled to attend this morning. And he’ll be in Birmingham later for the presidential forum.

Ron Paul has been focusing on caucus states and consequently has been quiet in down South. But of the three candidates actively campaigning here, Santorum is working the hardest, and Romney’s decision not to match that effort may be one he’ll regret. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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