Tuesday's Primaries Changed Nothing

Tuesday's Primaries Changed Nothing

By Sean Trende - March 15, 2012

Three differing narratives emerged in the press after Tuesday's contests. First, that Newt Gingrich had a very bad night and should drop out. Second, that Mitt Romney seems unable to seal the deal, and came up short yet again with his disappointing third-place performances in Alabama and Mississippi. Third, that Romney nevertheless won the delegate count, and continues his march toward the nomination.

The truth is, the contests changed nothing at all. Gingrich is unlikely to drop out, and the same demographic forces that have been driving this contest for months are still driving it today.

With respect to the first narrative, the media don’t seem to understand that Gingrich is the honey badger of politics right now. I don’t think he cares what the party is saying to him, and I’m fairly positive he doesn’t care what the press says.

To understand what Gingrich is thinking right now, you only have to go back to his caucus night speech in Iowa, when he castigated Romney for the tone of his campaign in an unusually vitriolic address. It’s personal for the former House speaker, and I take him at his word when he says his goal is to deny Romney the 1,144 delegates he needs to avoid a brokered convention.

Gingrich may or may not believe that he can emerge victorious from such a convention; that’s beyond our understanding right now. But the 68-year-old politician knows he’s a lion in winter, and that this is probably his last campaign. This brings with it a certain amount of freedom. He’ll run the campaign the way he wants to, and play entirely by his own rules. Viewed in this light, going after debate moderators isn’t just playing to the crowd; it’s something he’s probably wanted to do in interviews and campaigns for years now, and hadn’t because consultants warned him off. He’s going to continue doing it his way, right to the end.

As to the second and third narratives, let’s first update our county-level map:

It’s not as solid as our earlier version, in part because Santorum’s rise split the non-Romney vote in Alabama and Mississippi, and allowed Romney to squeak through in some places where he wouldn’t normally be able to compete. Let’s look first at Alabama. Here Romney won only five counties, four of which are among the most urban in the state -- Montgomery, Mobile, Jefferson (Birmingham), and Baldwin (Daphne). Santorum won the northern portion of the state, which is largely a part of Appalachia. Gingrich won the southern half of the state, continuing his out-sized showings in heavily African-American counties; unsurprisingly, he also did better in counties that bordered Georgia.

In Mississippi, Santorum again dominated in Appalachia (the northeast quarter of the state), and Romney ran well in the urban areas (really, only the Gulf Coast, Hinds County [Jackson], and DeSoto County in the northwest, which is part of the Memphis suburbs). Gingrich did well in the “black belt” counties running across the south-central portion of the state. Surprisingly, Romney won the delta, although he typically did so with a very low share of the vote; Gingrich and Santorum split their vote shares there, allowing Romney to sneak through.

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Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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