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Opinion: The GOP's Primary Calendar is to Blame for 'Southern Nightmare'

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 11:39 AM

Rick Santorum spent part of Super Tuesday addressing the American Israel Policy Affairs Committee in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Alabama and Mississippi are not normally in play for presidential candidate nominations, but this year the “Southern Nightmare” presents opportunities and threats for the GOP.

One the one hand, it’s important to have these real “deep southern” states involved in the process because many elections have turned on who wins the South. We know that the Democrats base in southern states was attrited by the civil rights movement and their dominance replaced by Republican victories. After passing major civil rights laws, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson told aides that  "We have lost the South for a generation." He was right.

What makes these two states easier to discount is that they are much more conservative than the mean of American voters. That, of course, again yanks the GOP candidates too far to the right, making it even harder to swing back to the center for the general election.

The South is a “trail of pain” because it offers a toxic mix of divided conservative voters who cannot seem to coalesce around any of the four candidates. There are many small town rural voters, religious voters, social conservatives, economic conservatives, and eclectic “southerners” who connect well with Gingrich’s Georgia southern heritage and intimate knowledge of grits. Romney’s Mormon faith is also an issue for enough Southerners to make it an uncomfortable area for Mitt Romney.

Some in the GOP are putting forth a best face on the protracted battle for the nomination. In particular the leaders of the Republican National Committee are defending the calendar and the decision to have so many contests divide delegates proportionately. I’m not so sure. A quick early victory would have spared the contenders the endless scrutiny of their positions on issues and their frequent slips of tongue.

Regardless, this political season has revealed two things; a very fragmented Republican base and four flawed candidates whose favorability ratings sink as the contests drag on. Much as we all hoped the South would shake out some of the uncertainty about who will emerge victorious, for better or worse, the good folks of Alabama and Mississippi can’t close the deal.

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