What an interesting 48 hours in Mississippi politics. Within that span of time, all three major Republican presidential candidates have been criss-crossing Mississippi.
Now all eyes are turning to next Tuesday in the Republican primary.
Mitt Romney has scored a coup of sorts in Mississippi. There were many statewide elected officials that locked into Romney early on, most notably Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and Auditor Stacey Pickering, who is serving as Romney’s Mississippi Chairman. Then Delbert Hosemann came on board. Late Thursday, Governor Phil Bryant joined the voices of those supporting Romney. Bryant likely wouldn’t have endorsed Romney if he wasn’t convinced that he was the “for sure” nominee.
Romney’s two big strengths are money and organization. Having huge leads in both the fundraising and delegate counts makes Romney still the guy to beat nationally. In Mississippi, those two strengths have coalesced around one man . . . Austin Barbour. Barbour is high up in the national Romney organization and is the tie that binds Romney to the endorsements he’s received here.
The politics of these endorsements is interesting. Theoretically, Mississippi is not a place that Romney should be expected to do well. The wide range of elected officials endorsing Romney no doubt know that, which makes their endorsement all the more worthwhile. It means they know they are taking some political risk in the short term. Now, the question is how hard will these elected officials who have endorsed Romney actually push through their own GOTV organizations?
Though there hasn’t been any publicly released polling in Mississippi yet, Alabama has been polled a couple of times. Romney was +9 over Santorum and Gingrich in a poll released Thursday. Mississippi should theoretically poll similarly to Alabama. As of Thursday evening, Rasmussen Reports was in the field conducting an extensive phone poll, the results of which should be released Friday or Saturday.
In the end, a strong second place finish for Romney in Mississippi and Alabama would be a good night. Mississippi Republicans award delegates by congressional district and at large.
Given the money, endorsements, organization and now some encouraging polling, Romney could win straight away, and if he does, it’s going to put Santorum and Gingrich on the ropes. As Austin’s brother (and GOP national committeeman) Henry Barbour stated to the Wall Street Journal, “I see Mississippi and Alabama as uphill battles for Romney,” said Henry Barbour, a Romney backer and GOP official in Mississippi, who is also a nephew of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. “But we have an opportunity, by voting for Gov. Romney, to really help bring out the fat lady and end the nominating process.”
However, I have a slightly counterintuitive view. Regardless of what the mainstream media says, this longer, protracted primary race has been good for Republicans and its ultimate nominee. No matter the severity of the squabbles, at the end of the day, the thing that will ultimately bind Republicans of all stripes is the recognition that Obama must be beat in November. There’s no Republican that any Republican dislikes more than they dislike Obama. Remember that Obama and Hillary Clinton fought like dogs and cats through the late spring, and that fight made Obama a better candidate. Whoever runs this gauntlet will be battle hardened for a quick race to November.
Fighting contested elections makes you better. It forces you to build and maintain an organization in nearly every state. It keeps you, for better or worse, on the front page of the newspaper communicating your message and it narrows the amount of time and earned media that the opposing side can focus against you.
Much like in Michigan, Romney will dump a huge amount of money over the airwaves over the weekend. That coupled with the range of endorsements gives him the edge to pull off a squeaker of a victory on Tuesday. However, a solid second would keep his lead on delegates, which is the ultimate goal.