There's a chance -- just a chance -- that the Republican primary will finally end tonight if Mississippi and Alabama pick Mitt Romney. The polls are really close -- some showing Romney ahead in both states -- even though Romney is not just a moderate but, worse, a northerner who said he liked cheese grits in a way that suggested he maybe didn't like cheese grits at all. Romney's campaign scheduled a last-minute stop in Mobile, Ala., on Monday, The Wall Street Journal's Janet Hook and Patrick O'Connor report, which showed "a change of strategy from Mr. Romney's initial efforts to damp expectations for victory in the state." Rick Santorum, meanwhile, started playing down the election. Politico's Jonathan Allen writes that a Romney victory would end the primary: "If one of the two conservative alternatives can’t decisively defeat the establishment favorite in Mississippi and Alabama, which have veered even more sharply to the right in the Obama era, it’s difficult to imagine either of them constructing an electoral firewall that can halt Romney’s march to Tampa."
The Romney campaign's decision not to play down the hype has had clear results: The Washington Times' Seth McLaughlin reports it would be a big symbolic victory for Romney, proving he can win in the South. Politico's Mike Allen says it could be "the most decisive night of the primary season." On the other hand, Politico reports that the way Romney would win in Alabama and Mississippi -- in the more liberal coastal areas, the better-educated college NASA towns, the more affluent suburbs -- would not necessarily disprove the perception that Romney can't appeal to less-wealthy, more religious conservatives.
And the idea that it'd be a miracle for Romney, the establishment choice, to win in anti-establishment states seems a little odd, given that Alabama and Mississippi are clearly not that anti-establishment at all. Even after Republicans successfully adopted a post-Civil Rights Era "Southern Strategy" of playing on southern racism to win national elections -- even after Ronald Reagan made his first speech as the 1980 Republican nominee about "states rights" just outside Philadelphia, Miss. -- the place of the infamous 1964 murder of civil rights workers -- Democrats retained control over the state legislatures for decades. Mississippi's state house switched to Republican control for the first time since Reconstruction last fall; the state senate only flipped in 2003, and then only with a party switcher. Both of Alabama's legislative chambers switched to Republican for the first time since Reconstruction in 2010. So it seems like voters in those states have long been happy to forgive a little bit of ideological heresy here and there. On top of that, these people wear shirts and ties to tailgate college football games. The women wear heels! Not comfort heels but the pointy kind that sink in the grass! People who wear uncomfortable clothes to watch sports are not anti-establishment. These are truly Romney's people, they just have a bit of an accent.