Southern Discomfort: Gingrich Faces A Critical Test Down South.

More than a dozen years after leaving the House, where he represented the Atlanta suburbs for two decades, Newt Gingrich returns to the Deep South this week for a critical Dixie test.

Ninety delegates are at stake; more than that, Gingrich needs a pair of victories to remain a viable contender. But winning Alabama and Mississippi will be difficult.

Polls in both states show Gingrich in a strong position, but he is not necessarily the front-runner. According to Rasmussen, Mitt Romney leads in Mississippi, and in Alabama Gingrich barely leads Rick Santorum. Gingrich and his allies, however, are confident that they can survive.

Now, the two leading anti-Romney conservative favorites will clash near Gingrich’s home turf. Gingrich’s challenge is not only to beat Romney but also to halt Santorum’s rise.

“If Gingrich can’t win in the South, it’s unclear where he’ll find momentum,” says Ford O’Connell, a GOP consultant who worked on former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour’s 2007 reelection campaign. “It’s his base. Santorum has appeal, but he and Romney do not speak  southern.” The pressure on Gingrich to impress is intense.

“Given the fact that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are vying for the same voting bloc in the Deep South, Mitt Romney could win one of these two states,” says Ford O’Connell. “And if that occurs, the GOP primary could wind down, with Romney showing strength across all regions.”

Read more from Robert Costa at National Review Online

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published this page in In The News 2012-03-12 09:00:00 -0400
Analysis & Political Strategy