Four Lessons from Alabama/Mississippi/Hawaii

Four Lessons from Alabama/Mississippi/Hawaii

Four Lessons from Alabama/Mississippi/Hawaii

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 14 2012 8:29 AM

Four Lessons from Alabama/Mississippi/Hawaii

1) Mitt is learning the delegate math, slowly. In 2008, John McCain only lost Alabama's primary by four points; it earned him 19 of 45 delegates. This year Mitt Romney lost the state by 5 points, and the early count gives him 9 of 47 delegates. It was a rare mistep for Mitt 2012: The Quest for Delegates. In Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, Romney lost but focused on exactly the right areas of the state necessary to pull in delegates.

2) But he needs to stop overpromising. You can't blame the traveling press for Romney's heightened expectations in the South. Yes, the horse race crowd is constantly demanding that candidates tell them what would get them to drop out, or whether a state is must-win, etc. But like Andy Kaczynski points out, Romney walked right into the hated Narrative. He called Alabama and Mississippi "away games," which they were. Then he said he'd win them, which he simply couldn't do.

3) Rick Santorum is the rural candidate, which isn't the way to win this thing. Sean Trende's map of the primary county-by-county is absurdly useful. Santorum: Green. Romney: Blue. Gingrich: Red.

trendemap

Basically, Romney wins counties where 1) a lot of people live, 2) some Mormons live, or 2a) a lot of Mormons live. Santorum wins rural and exurban counties. Why do I say this will hurt him? Well, it already has, twice, in Michigan and Ohio. In Alabama, Santorum won by 6 points. He won Shelby County, one of the classic white surburban boom areas, by only 3 points. In Mississippi, where Santorum won a squeaker, he came a strong third place in Rankin County, the white flight zone east of Jackson. Extrapolate this to Illinois, the primary that the media is focusing on next. You can win every single county downstate, but if someone stomps you in Cook and DuPage, you lose.

4) Newt Gingrich Can't Stop, Won't Stop. This is my favorite part of Daniel Malloy's Gingrich wrap.

“The sun comes up tomorrow and we go to Chicago,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said. Hammond last week had said Gingrich needed to win both to remain a credible candidate. He changed his tune Tuesday night as results were coming in, offering a tongue-in-cheek assessment of his own remarks: “Whoever said that should be flogged.”

This isn't a rare tactic -- totally denying that you'll ever drop out -- but there's a certain gravity when Newt or his team says it. Maybe... he means it. Maybe he understands that the best chance of defeating Romney rests in delegate splits in the big upcoming states. And maybe he doesn't need that much money to keep this up.

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.