GOP Field Tries To Eat Its Veggies In The Heart Of Red Meat Country

Most Republicans want to drop talk of social issues and instead settle into a nice discussion of how horrible Obama is at everything independent voters like (read: gas prices, job creation, taxes.) But if the candidates are putting themselves on a strict economics-only diet, the race’s turn into the Deep South is akin to dropping them into a cupcake factory. Or at least a red meat factory.

The race now moves to approaching primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, where the conservatism is of the uncut variety. What’s worse for Republicans eager to abandon the topics polls show are turning off women, independents and Latinos, those states favor Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Romney hasn’t done well in the South so far (see: South Carolina, Tennessee and the surprising Ron Paul vote in Virginia) and though he’s spending money in the Deep South primaries and won the endorsement of Mississippi’s governor, no one really thinks the contests are about him.

So that means a brighter spotlight on two candidates who love a good social issues fight, and two states with Republican voters who might have an appetite for one. The candidates themselves are trying mightily to stay focused. Romney is knocking the debt. Newt Gingrich is pumping gas and Rick Santorum is promising to be on his best behavior.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who’s helped Republicans win in both states, told TPM that the national candidates need to tread lightly.

“You can’t really avoid talking about social issues in those states,” he said. “There are certain code words you can use down there that don’t come back to haunt you in the rest of the country.”

“If they go out there and shoot from the hip, they could obviously damage themselves in other regions,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Evan McMorris-Santoro and Kyle Leighton at TPM 

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published this page in In The News 2012-03-09 12:00:00 -0500
Analysis & Political Strategy