Not much good news for Mitt Romney last night. Sure, he padded his delegate totals some as he inches toward the magic number of 1,144. But the losses in Alabama and Mississippi — a state that some Romney supporters were convinced they were going to win — ought to give the Massachusetts governor pause.
Once again, Mitt bumped his head on the glass ceiling, garnering 29 percent of the vote in Alabama and 30 percent in Mississippi. With Ron Paul a non-factor in both races, that meant the not-Mitt vote, now split between Santorum and Gingrich, led Romney by a two-to-one margin, as it has much of the primary season. And does anybody really believe that, should Gingrich drop out, a sizable number of his supporters will switch to Romney?
Evangelicals played an outsized role in both of Tuesday’s primary states, underscoring the challenge Romney had faced in the Southern primaries.
In Mississippi and Alabama, 80 percent or more of voters leaving their polling places said they were born again Christians or evangelical. Those voters have been reluctant to rally to Romney’s side in the primaries and caucuses to date. Among them, Santorum bested Romney by 9 points in Alabama and 4 points in Mississippi.
More broadly, the exit polls showed a primary electorate that was conservative, determinedly Republican and profoundly unhappy about the government – a combination that will keep both states in the GOP column in the fall.
“Reluctant” — why? Nobody wants to talk about it, but one possible explanation is that Romney’s Mormonism is playing poorly in the Deep South. And while the Constitution is explicit that there can be no religious test for public office, what goes on in voters’ hearts is another thing entirely. Should Romney be the nominee and evangelicals remain resistant, the result will be disastrous for the GOP.
As Mr. Newt observed, “If you’re the front-runner and you keep coming in third, you’re not much of a front-runner.” Who knows, maybe Michael Steele was right all along.