PPP: Southern Super Tuesday toss-up

posted at 8:40 am on March 12, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

The critical primaries this week take place in Alabama and Mississippi tomorrow, and we can expect one last flurry of polling in both states as the pollsters make their last bets.  PPP has decided not to bet at all.  In its final surveys in the two contests, they predict a dead heat in both states:

Tuesday looks like it’s going to be a close election night in both Mississippi and Alabama. In Mississippi Newt Gingrich is holding on to a slight lead with 33% to 31% for Mitt Romney, 27% for Rick Santorum, and 7% for Ron Paul. And Alabama is even closer with Romney at 31% to 30% for Gingrich, 29% for Santorum, and 8% for Paul.

Gingrich and Santorum are both more popular than Romney in each of these states. In Mississippi Gingrich’s net favorability is +33 (62/29) to +32 for Santorum (60/28) and +10 for Romney (51/41). It’s a similar story in Alabama where Santorum’s at +32 (63/31), Gingrich is at +26 (58/32), and Romney’s at only +13 (53/40).

Unfortunately for Gingrich and Santorum, they’re both equally popular with “very conservative” voters.  They split that vote almost equally, and that leaves room for Romney among the “somewhat conservative” and moderate likely voters polled in both states.  PPP’s multi-day survey also measured momentum over the weekend, and that’s good news for Gingrich in Mississippi, but not in Alabama:

It’s not really clear who, if anyone, 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%.

Gingrich really needs to win both states to remain in the race, or split them with Santorum at worst case.  If Romney wins in Alabama, he can claim to have won in every part of the country, while Gingrich can’t even claim to have won all of the Southern states that he feels is his natural base.  Perhaps that’s why Gingrich’s team has started floating a trial balloon now of adding Rick Perry on as a running mate before a potentially brokered convention:

Sources close to the Gingrich campaign say preliminary “what-if” conversations are underway that could lead to a Gingrich-Perry ticket being announced prior to the  Republican National Convention at the end of August.

Gingrich insiders hope forming a predetermined ticket with Perry will unite the evangelical, Tea Party and very conservative voters that make up the core of the GOP.

As discussions got underway, a spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry released a statement saying, “Gov. Perry thinks Newt Gingrich is the strongest conservative to debate and defeat President Obama and truly overhaul Washington. The speculation is humbling but premature.”

Floating Perry as a running mate two days before Alabama and Mississippi could energize conservatives or turn them off.

A senior aide to Rick Santorum called it a desperate hail mary [sic] to create buzz ahead of contests in Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday.

That kind of trial balloon may have worked better before the weekend began, rather than as it ended, if Team Gingrich wanted to get a Southern boost tomorrow.

Update: There will be a lot of people in both states making up their minds as they go into the voting booth.  In Alabama, only 73% had a strong commitment to a candidate, and in Mississippi only 75%.

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