Mitt Romney’s disappointing third-place finishes in Alabama and Mississippi last night are not that surprising, given that he was a Mormon Yankee trying to win over conservatives in the Deep South.
What was surprising is just how badly Romney collapsed last night. Although the final results were close, exit polls show that he failed to appeal to voters across the demographic spectrum, including those who have been his most reliable supporters in past contests.
In Mississippi and Alabama, Rick Santorum edged out Romney among voters earning between $100,000 and $200,000, a natural constituency for the former private equity executive. Santorum also won among college graduates, another group that has consistently turned out for Romney this year. (Romney did hold his advantage among voters with advanced degrees.)
To make matters worse, Romney struggled to hold on to older voters, a key Republican constituency that has so far been in his corner. The former Massachusetts Governor lost Mississippi’s 65+ vote to Newt Gingrich, 39% to 35%, although he managed to carry that demographic in Alabama.
These numbers — compounded with Romney’s continued inability to appeal to Tea Partiers and evangelicals — illustrate the depth of Romney’s trouble with the GOP’s conservative Southern base, and indicate much bigger problems for the party should Romney win the nomination. It is difficult to imagine a winning electoral map for Republicans that doesn’t rely on a decisive sweep of the South.
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