As should have been expected, yesterday's trickle of polling out of the Deep South was augmented today by several additional polls, this time in both Alabama and Mississippi. Maddeningly, the GOP primary polling offers little clear direction, with such a degree of ambiguity as to suggest pretty much any order of finish (with Ron Paul finishing 4th, it would seem).
So, what do we know about the "Deep South" primaries next week? Less than we did yesterday, but a couple of scenarios are clearly developing, which I will flesh out after the jump.
GOP PRIMARY POLLS:
NATIONAL (Gallup Tracking): Romney 35, Santorum 24, Gingrich 13, Paul 11GENERAL ELECTION TRIAL HEATS:
ALABAMA (Alabama State University): Gingrich 21, Romney 20, Santorum 17 (Ron Paul not polled … again)
ALABAMA (Rasmussen): Gingrich 30, Santorum 29, Romney 28, Paul 7
MISSISSIPPI (American Research Group): Gingrich 35, Romney 31, Santorum 20, Paul 7
MISSISSIPPI (Rasmussen): Romney 35, Gingrich 27, Santorum 27, Paul 6
NATIONAL (Rasmussen Tracking): Romney d. Obama (47-45); Obama d. Santorum (47-44)
"CORE STATES" (Rasmussen): Obama d. Romney (46-42)
("Core States" defined as Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia)
Before we delve into next Tuesday and the primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, it bears mentioning that there are contests that precede the "Deep South" primaries. Tomorrow brings a quartet of events that are largely escaping attention. The "island caucuses" are on deck, though none of the main luminaries took a shot at making a play in Guam, the US Virgin Islands, or the Northern Marianas. Two candidates, however, did make at least a bit of a play in Kansas, which holds it caucuses tomorrow and actually swings quite a few delegates around. The widespread expectation is that this culturally conservative state is Rick Santorum's for the taking, given his dominant performance next door in Missouri. Perhaps a sign of how confident the political universe is of that fact would be the simple fact that zero polls were conducted this month in the Sunflower State, despite it having more delegates at stake than some of the other highlighted events of the cycle.
But we are starting to get some polling out of Alabama and Mississippi, but the early sense is that it is hardly predictive.
We have had four polls out of Alabama (including two by Alabama State, which still inexplicably does not factor Ron Paul into their polling. Again, I shudder at the thought of what their email inbox looks like). Mitt Romney has led one of those polls by a comfortable nine points, while Rick Santorum led another by four points. But the two polls released today both put Newt Gingrich into the mix, giving him "leads" of a single point. Rasmussen's new poll there, in particular, underscores the lack of predictability in the state: each of the top three candidates is separated by a single point. Ron Paul looks likely to run butt-nekkid last (thank you forever, Jon Drummond, for that phrase), but that's the only definitive statement one can make about the state of the race.
Mississippi is no less muddled, with Rasmussen giving Romney a fairly clear edge, but ARG (!) claiming a narrow Gingrich lead.
What is clear, however, is that Mitt Romney still has tremendous liabilities in the South, at least at the primary level. But, given his need to smother any sense of opponent "momentum" in the crib, even a Pyrrhic victory with 30-35 percent of the vote will absolutely suffice in this case. And, if neither Santorum nor Gingrich falter markedly in the next couple of days, he may well get it. The scenario of Romney winning 35-30-30 is not only plausible, it seems like one of the more likely outcomes on Tuesday. That will do nothing to squelch the "inevitability" meme, even if it also does nothing to dispel the notion of Mitt Romney as a weak frontrunner blessed by his opposition.
The good news: we will be getting more data on these states this weekend, courtesy of our polling pals at PPP. Right now, they are in the field in North Carolina, and in a telling set of tweets, they have Mitt Romney out in front on night one. That's a first, and another hint that the GOP might at long last be edging towards the acceptance stage with their likely nominee.