This is it, you guys: the very last chance all primary -- maybe all election -- to try out your jazziest Dixieland cliches. Is Newt Gingrich the black-eyed peas to Rick Santorum's collard greens? Is Mitt Romney day-old cornbread? A cottonmouth on a float trip? An egg-sucking dog? Does any of that mean anything? Does it even matter? Not tonight. Tonight is all about the "proud" "heritage" of the Grits Eaters. Mississippi and Alabama have rarely been the deciders in the Republican primary, but Tuesday night they could end this one by picking Mitt Romney, who has not proven his ability to either shoot small creatures with big guns or shoot large creatures with little guns. If the conservative alternatives can't win in the most conservative states, where can they win? On the other hand, if Santorum does better than polls predict -- which he often does -- not only will he have defeated Romney far from his Rust Belt home turf, but it will look like a come-from-behind victory. If Newt Gingrich wins, he can declare himself President of the Deep South. He's won Georgia and South Carolina, and his campaign says he has to keep winning everything between there and Texas. And then what? As for Ron Paul, he focused his energy on the Hawaii caucuses, though his caucus-centric strategy has yet to result in a win.
Polls close at 8 p.m. Eastern time, and we'll start liveblogging about an hour before that.
11:30p.m.: Poor Mitt Romney: he pretended to like both grits and Jeff Foxworthy, and all he got was lousy third place. Hawaii results will come in later tonight, and as The New York Times' Micah Cohen points out, blue states have tended to vote for Romney. In fact, Romney might still win more delegates tonight. But Alabama and Mississippi were the states everyone was paying attention to. "I don't think anybody expected Mitt to win Alabama or Mississippi," Romney's adviser said on CNN, but as BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski notes, Romney himself expected to win Alabama:
Lots of people (including us) expected Romney to do well. But he did so poorly he didn't bother to give a concession speech. His campaign is still pushing his math advantage:
In his victory speech, Santorum predicted he'd do a lot better than Gingrich's goal of just denying Romney a majority of delegates. "We're campaigning everywhere there are delegates because we are going to win this nomination before that convention," he said. He looked a lot happier than usual. The next big race is in Illinois, which votes March 20 and where Romney has been ahead in polls.
Gingrich came in second in both his "must-win" states. He doesn't even get to be President of the South. But he insists he's going on to the convention.
11:08p.m.: Mississippi: 92 percent of precincts reporting: Santorum 33 percent, Gingrich 31 percent, Romney 30 percent. Alabama: 76 percent of precincts reporting: Santorum 35 percent, Gingrich 30 percent, Romney 28 percent.
11:04p.m.: Gingrich says the "elite media" narrative that Romney is inevitable has been shattered, and that he's picked up some delegates so he can go on to Tampa. Yes, that means he's not quitting, at least not yet.
11:01p.m.: Newt speaks. He mocks Romney for being the alleged frontrunner yet coming in third. Behind him, his campaign has set up a nice contrast for the cameras: A sign that says "Don't believe the liberal media!" sitting right next to a group of supporters -- women and minorities -- picked precisely for the liberal media.
10:51p.m.: AP calls Mississippi for Santorum. "Number of MS polls where Santorum led: 0," Slate's Dave Weigel tweets.
10:44p.m.: Usually when Santorum has even a great night, he looks angry and mean. Not tonight, he managed to smile, especially after the crowd roared when he said he was committed to maintaining the family and "the centrality of faith in our lives."
10:35p.m.: Santorum gives his victory speech. He says of Romney that for someone who's "inevitable, he sure spent a lot of money to beat me." The gall! His face says, Can you believe it?
10:25p.m.: "The demographic patterns are so consistent in states that have voted we can basically predict the results of every state from here on out," The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza tweets. The Atlantic Wire loves this idea. Math people: get to work now and you can end the Republican primary in a couple hours if we can just get the Republican National Committee to accept the results.
10:17p.m.: The homepage of the Romney-loving Drudge Report:
10:02p.m.: Alabama with 31 percent of precincts reporting: Santorum 35 percent, Gingrich 30 percent, Romney 28 percent. Mississippi with 59 percent of precincts reporting: Santorum 33 percent, Gingrich 32 percent, Romney 30 percent.
9:54p.m.: NBC calls Alabama for Santorum.
9:45p.m.: While we wait, the mood shifts on the Twitters:
- "The conventional wisdom seems to have shifted in last 20 minutes from Romney/Santo split decision to Santo sweep" -- The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza.
- "Romney HQ was cocky after early exits, but actuals looking tighter than exits. Mitt in the hunt in MS, but v close… AL not so much…" -- Republican strategist Mike Murphy.
- "It's early, but looks like night is very good for Santo, dismal for Newt, disappointing for Romney" -- National Journal's Josh Kraushaar.
- "Mississippi Polls Having Rough Night So Far" -- The New York Times' Nate Silver, who writes, "Rick Santorum holds a small lead in Mississippi with about 40 percent of the vote in; he's won 33 percent of the votes there so far. That's quite a bit better than Mr. Santorum was running in pre-election surveys; our projection from the polls had him winning 26 percent of the vote there instead. And one poll conducted over the weekend, from American Research Group, had him with just 22 percent of the vote."
9:29p.m.: Results are coming in sooo slowly. Hawaii polls close at 2a.m. Will it beat Mississippi and Alabama? With 23 percent of Mississippi precincts reporting, Santorum as 33 percent, Gingrich has 31 percent, Romney has 30 percent. In Alabama, with 8 percent of precincts reporting, Santorum has 34 percent, Gingrich has 30 percent, and Romney has 29 percent.
9:02p.m.: With 5 whole percent of precincts reporting in Mississippi, Romney has 32.5 percent, Santorum 32.1 percent, Gingrich 28.5 percent.
8:50p.m.: With 0.4 percent reporting in Mississippi, Santorum has 34 percent, Gingrich has 34 perent, Santorum has 27 percent, Paul has 4 percent.
8:40p.m.: Let's talk about gender gaps!
2. Santorum, 30 percent
3. Romney, 28 percent
4. Paul. 6 percent
2. Romney, 30 percent
3. Gingrich, 23 percent
4. Paul. 6 percent
2. Romney, 31 percent
3. Santorum, 29 percent
4. Paul, 7 percent
2. Santorum, 33 percent
3. Gingrich 28 percent
4. Paul, 4 percent
8:33p.m.: With 0.1 percent of Alabama precincts in, Santorum as 34 percent, Romney 29 percent, Gingrich 26 percent, and Paul 11 percent. The dog ate Mississippi's homework. No returns yet.
8:22p.m.: CNN reports that inmates sentenced to hard labor have to carry in ballots in Jefferson County, Alabama. They are literally wearing striped suits! Orange and white instead of black and white, however. No chain gain, it appears.
8:19p.m.: CNN updates its exit poll numbers in Mississippi: 33 percent Romney, 31 percent Santorum, 30 percent Gingrich. In Alabama, 34 percent for Santorum, 29 percent for Romney, and 28 for Gingrich. But these are just exit polls!
8:10p.m.: Exit polls indicate Gingrich might not win either of his must-win states. "Newt's southern strategy: split the conservative vote enough Romney can be competitive in states he would have no chance in otherwise," BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski tweets.
8:07p.m.: Some election party sites are more crowded than others:
8:00p.m.: Poll close! CNN exit polls have Romney winning Mississippi, Santorum winning Alabama. But it's too early for networks to call the races.
7:54p.m.: We might be here late: The New York Times' Nate Silver points out that Mississippi doesn't have a reputation for counting votes fast. Alabama's a little better.
7:38p.m.: Let's not forget that whatever happens in 2012, the effects of this election can last for years. 2008 gave us Meghan McCain, for example. On Tuesday, she posted a video on her website of an interview with Forbes in which she "revisits 'Boobgate.'" Boobgate, if you've forgotten, was the time McCain tweeted a photo in which her boobs were rather prominent in the image. Then, a bunch of people said, "hey look, Meghan McCain has boobs." In response, McCain wrote a lot of deep-thinking articles about body image and the life of the modern woman titled "Don't Call Me a Slut" (about the boob photo), "Stop the Fat Jokes," "Quit Talking About My Weight, Laura Ingraham," "Shut Up About My Body, Glenn Beck," "Yes, I Wear Fake Hair," and "America's Boob Police." So if your worried your candidate won't make it to the general election, or won't beat Obama, just remember: his offspring could someday be a writer for the Daily Beast.
7:36p.m.: In Alabama, 35 percent of the electorate was married women, and they went for Romney by 40 percent to Santorum's 36 percent, Santorum supports. In Mississippi, married ladies went for Romney 40 percent to Santorum's 33 percent.
7:29p.m.: Romney continues his campaign to make reporters like him with cupcakes:
(Photo via Associated Press.)
7:17p.m.: Very important White House pool report just came in. Subject line: "potus eats a hot dog." Text: "Shortly after the game started, two young women delivered three hot dogs – one each for Marvin Nicholson, Obama and [British Prime Minister David] Cameron. The prime minister put ketchup on his and both men ate the dogs pretty quickly. Cameron washed his down with a coke, POTUS with water."
7:13p.m.: Exit polls show about 75 percent of voters in Mississippi and Alabama said it was important for a candidate to share their religious views, the Washington Post's Natalie Jennings reports. That might be bad for Romney, who is Mormon. But maybe the religious views voters had in mind were Obama's -- 45 percent of Mississippians believe he's Muslim, a poll showed last week.
7:10p.m.: Possible turnout factor: There is a gorilla on the loose in Newbern, Alabama. A real gorilla, not a metaphorical one. Police are looking for the beast, roaming the rural area 50 miles south of Tuscaloosa, KMAS reports. Will voters stay home, for fear of the vicious brute? Or will they run for cover into welcoming polling stations?
7:03p.m.: CNN exit polls show 55 percent of Alabama voters said Mitt Romney wasn't conservative enough. But less than that, 38 percent, described themselves as "very conservative." So some people who think they're only somewhat conservative still think Romney is too moderate.