The Republican candidates are finishing up their last minute pitches to voters who usually don't get that much attention -- those in Alabama and Mississippi. The Deep South primaries on March 13 are supposed to offer some kind of test for Romney, because in the primary contests so far, he hasn't been able to win two groups that are a really important part of the Republican base: evangelicals and very conservative voters. Those voters are a much bigger part of the electorate in Alabama and Mississippi. But in the general election, Romney's problem won't be winning over Alabama conservatives, it will be winning independents in swing states. Those groups don't look a lot alike, which is one reason why Deep South voters are usually ignored.
In Alabama, for example, Public Policy Polling finds that only 14 percent of likely Republican voters think Obama's a Christian; 45 percent think he's Muslim. In August 2010, only 18 percent of independents nationwide thought Obama was a Muslim, Pew Research Center found -- and that was just a couple months before dissatisfaction with Obama led to Democrats' huge losses in the midterm elections. A couple more data points showing how the South really is different: PPP finds that in Alabama, 21 percent think interracial marriage should be illegal, 29 percent think so in Mississippi. It's not nice to say that voters in the Deep South are different than those in the rest of the country. No one likes to be called racist. But pretending the region's past isn't important anymore leads to curious conclusions. The Washington Post's David A. Fahrenthold and Krissah Thompson talked to voters in Mississippi:
"Southern people are conservative by need. You know, if you lived in the South 40 years ago, you’d know what I’m talking about," said Donald Crocker, who has cut hair in tiny Leakesville since 1966. He meant that Southerners had learned to live poor, relying on their churches and their neighbors and not expecting government help.
Hmm... it seems like there was something else that made the South conservative 40 years ago. Oh yes! The Post continues:
Romney’s efforts to connect focused on food. “I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits,” he said in Jackson, Miss. “I’ll tell ya — delicious.” In other states, the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign had stretched out giant versions of the state flag as part of his backdrop. But Mississippi’s flag — which incorporates the Confederate flag — was set behind a tractor, limp and almost invisible.
Here's how the candidates are appealing to voters down South: