It's All Politics
6:17 pm
Tue March 13, 2012

Mississippi, Alabama: Live Blog And Results

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:57 am

"We did it again," declared Rick Santorum during his victory speech in Lafayette, La.

Indeed, the former Pennsylvania senator swept the Republican presidential primaries in Alabama and Mississippi and once again threw Mitt Romney, who has from the very beginning been the presumptive nominee, on the defensive.

Of course, there are two other contests going this evening: Hawaii and American Samoa are holding caucuses, and if Romney takes both of those, he may very well end the night with the most delegates.

Still, Santorum was jubilant in his speech. Even though he was outspent massively in the two Deep South states, his campaign continues "defying the odds," he said.

"The time is now for conservatives to pull together," Santorum said. "The best way to win this election is to nominate a conservative to go up against Barack Obama, who can take him on every issue."

Newt Gingrich, whose campaign has talked extensively about the importance of its Southern strategy, came in second, but in a virtual tie with Romney in both Alabama and Mississippi.

The result, however, did not deter him. He made it clear he had no plans to quit the race, despite the fact that he's won in only Georgia, which he represented in Congress for two decades, and South Carolina.

What tonight accomplished, Gingrich said in a speech from his headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., is that "we have ended the talk of an inevitable candidate."

Larry Sabato, the director of University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said he still can't see anyone but Romney winning the nomination.

"Mitt Romney is still the very likely nominee," he told our Newscast unit. "But he has big problems and the results in Mississippi and Alabama just underline them."

What's clear, said Sabato, is that this primary campaign will go on and on.

We live blogged throughout the night, so keep reading if you want a blow-by-blow account of how it unfolded.

Updated at 4:30 a.m. ET, Hawaii:

Mitt Romney has won the Republican presidential caucuses in Hawaii, salvaging a much needed victory after resurgent rival Rick Santorum won primaries in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday

Updated at 2:06 a.m. ET, American Samoa:

Mitt Romney has won the Republican caucus in American Samoa, picking up all nine delegates. About 70 Republicans in the U.S. territory located 2,300 miles south of Hawaii met in caucus Tuesday.

Update at 12:15 a.m. ET. Hawaii And American Samoa:

Because of the time difference, we won't get results from the Hawaii and American Samoa caucuses until early in the morning. We'll update this post once they are available.

Update at 12:03 a.m. ET. Early Headlines:

Here's some early reaction to Rick Santorum's victories:

-- The Washington Post says Santorum's Deep South sweep "signals Santorum is consolidating support among the party's conservatives."

-- The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis says Tuesday night's results mean it's "time for Newt to exit the race."

-- The National Review's headline is "Rejecting Romney." The publication talks to Evangelical leaders who talk about the "trust gap" they have with Romney.

-- Here's how The New York Times sums up the night:

"The triumphs by Mr. Santorum elevated and strengthened his candidacy as the Republican campaign rolls ahead into a state-by-state battle for delegates. An aggressive push by Mr. Romney to try and capitalize on the divided conservative electorate failed to take hold, and he finished third in both states."

And what the future might hold:

"While Mr. Romney holds considerable advantages over his rivals, his aides acknowledge that he is unlikely to reach the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination for at least two more months. His challengers have gradually given up on the idea of surpassing him and have turned to a strategy of trying to block him from reaching the delegates he needs to effectively end the nominating contest."

Update at 11:26 p.m. ET. Romney Has Big Problems:

Our Newscast unit just checked in with Larry Sabato, the director of University of Virginia's Center for Politics. And his bottom line is this: "Mitt Romney is still the very likely nominee but he has big problems and the results in Mississippi and Alabama just underline them."

Sabato said these two contests just prove that there is still "tremendous resistance from the base," who have personal issues with Romney that will "clearly [go] on all the way to June."

And while Sabato says he doesn't see anyone but Romney getting the nomination, he believes that his nomination "is going to reduce Republican enthusiasm" during the general election.

Update at 11:16 p.m. ET. The Rest Of The Night's Contests:

NBC News' Chuck Todd has a bit of a reality check for Santorum. Todd tweets:

"If Romney sweeps HI and American Samoa like he did in Guam et al, then Romney could still win the night on delegates. #santorum's#math prob"

And it seems that's what the Romney campaign is banking on. Here's Romney's latest tweet:

"Will be a late night waiting for results from American Samoa and HI but a big THANK YOU to everyone who voted in MS and AL."

Update at 11:04 p.m. ET. Ended Talk Of Inevitable Candidate:

Newt Gingrich took the stage in his Birmingham, Ala., headquarters to cheers and posters featuring a gas pump reading $2.50.

He made one thing clear very quickly: He is not quitting the race.

Gingrich did start his speech congratulating Santorum on the wins he said Santorum deserved and worked hard for.

But very quickly, he made the case that because these are proportional contests, he will receive a third of the delegates. Gingrich said Romney, the presumptive front-runner, would receive less than a third of the delegates.

"We need someone who can debate Barack Obama," said Gingrich, adding that his campaign has already changed the national conversation "without all [of Romney's] money." Taking a jab at Romney, Gingrich said a Massachusetts moderate would get beaten in debates with the president.

What tonight accomplished, Gingrich concluded, is that "we have ended the talk of an inevitable candidate."

Update at 10:49 p.m. ET. CNN, AP Call Mississippi For Santorum:

It looks like Santorum will have a big night: CNN and the AP are joining Fox News in projecting Santorum will win Mississippi.

Update at 10:48 p.m. ET. Fox News Calls Mississippi For Santorum:

You may have noticed that during Santorum's victory speech, the crowd became very excited. They were reacting to Fox News calling Mississippi for Santorum.

Update at 10:44 p.m. ET. 'We Will Win The Nomination Before Convention':

To a loud, cheerful crowd, Santorum made a bold prediction: "We are going to win the nomination before that convention," he said.

"The time is now for conservatives to pull together," Santorum said. "The best way to win this election is to nominate a conservative to go up against Barack Obama, who can take him on every issue."

Update at 10:36 p.m. ET. 'Ordinary Folks Doing Extraordinary Things':

A jubilant Santorum continues, "This campaign is about ordinary folks doing extraordinary things, kind of like America."

He says his campaign continues to surprise. He said he doesn't think a single poll showed him leading in Mississippi.

Santorum now goes into his regular stump speech, attacking President Obama without naming him. He says he administration runs a government that is "irresponsive to the needs of ordinary people." And then he continues to criticize an "extreme environmental policy" that has led to gas prices as "historic highs."

Update at 10:32 p.m. ET. 'We Did It Again':

"Well, we did it again," Santorum says to begin his victory speech in Lafayette, La.

Santorum says that even though he's been outspent, his campaign is "defying the odds."

Update at 10:23 p.m. ET. It's Only Halftime:

Earlier we quoted Ari Fleischer saying if Gingrich doesn't win tonight, he'll bow out.

Well, The Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog passes along a memo just sent by his campaign that is quite simply defiant. It reads in part:

"It is a long way until June 26th. Republicans indeed get to be a part of history, not more of the same.

"So buckle up. This race is not going to be won or lost over backroom deals or endless and mind-numbing discussions in the media over delegate counts. This race is going to be decided by a big debate – a big choice – among GOP primary voters about the future of the Republican Party; what it stands for, and which candidate has the most compelling vision and most credibility to carry forward a conservative governing agenda.

"That is the debate Newt is going to win, and with it, the nomination and the election."

Update at 10:18 p.m. ET. AP Projects Santorum Wins Alabama:

The AP, CNN, and NBC have called Alabama for Santorum, where with 50 percent of precincts reporting Santorum has an almost 5 point advantage.

Update at 10:16 p.m. ET. CNN Projects Santorum Wins Alabama:

CNN now joins NBC in calling Alabama for Santorum.

Update at 10:13 p.m. ET. A Two-Man Race?:

Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, tweets:

"So this will now be 2 man race, santo vs mitt, when it is too late for santo to win. Great. Just what GOP needs."

Update at 10:08 p.m. ET. Tight Race In Miss.:

With 62.5 percent of the precincts reporting, Santorum leads Gingrich by 1,819 votes. Santorum has 32.8 percent of the vote; Ginrich 31.7 percent, and Romney 30 percent.

Update at 10:02 p.m. ET. The Scene At Santorum HQ:

NPR's Debbie Elliott, who is with the Santorum campaign, sends us this dispatch:

"Rick Santorum is making his next play in the Deep South as he awaits results from the Alabama and Mississippi primaries today. His election night party is the heart of Cajun country — Lafayette, Louisiana. The primary here is on March 24th. Supporters have packed a hotel ballroom as news trickles in that Santorum is showing well in early returns.

"They chanted 'We Want Rick' and broke out in a verse of 'God Bless America' as they await his appearance. Voter Kevin Roberts says of all the GOP candidates, Santorum reflects the family values of Lafayette."

Update at 9:56 p.m. ET. NBC Projects Santorum Wins Alabama:

NBC News' Chuck Todd tweets:

"NBC News officially declares Santorum the winner of the AL primary"

NBC is the only one making the call so far. With 30 percent of the precincts reporting, Santorum has 34.5 percent of the vote and Gingrich has 29.7 percent of the vote. Romney is in third with 28.2 percent of the vote.

Update at 9:51 p.m. ET. No Victory Rally For Romney:

NPR's Brian Naylor, who is traveling with the Romney campaign, tells our Newscast unit that Romney is very much acting like the presumptive nominee. All day, Brian reports, Romney didn't mention the contests in Mississippi and Alabama.

"Only once did Romney acknowledge the voting, when he made a brief appearance before reporters in the back of his campaign plane," Brian reported. "He allowed that if all went well he might receive a third of the delegates at stake, a pretty safe bet. Further keeping expectations low, Romney scheduled no victory rallies for the evening; instead, he flew to New York for fundraisers. His campaign says it may release a statement when the results of the Southern primaries become clear."

Update at 9:45 p.m. ET. A Long Night?

The New York Times' statistics wizard Nate Silver says we might be in for a long night. The reason? The results coming in from Mississippi are not matching up with "the geography of the state." By that he means that districts you would expect would go to Romney aren't and districts you would expect to go for Santorum aren't.

"Rick Santorum's red color, Mitt Romney's blue and Newt Gingrich's orange seem to be distributed almost randomly on [the] map," Silver writes.

Update at 9:38 p.m. ET. 'At The Desperate End Of His Campaign':

While we wait for more results, it's worth looking back at an interview Romney gave CNN earlier today. Romney made it very clear that he thought he had the math to become the nominee.

Answering a question about the tough ads Santorum's superPAC is running about him, Romney said, "Sen. Santorum is at the desperate end of his campaign and is trying, in some way, to boost his prospects and — and, frankly, misrepresenting the truth is not a good way of doing that."

He added: "I mean he's far behind in the delegate count. He's far behind in the popular vote count. If you look at the math of how many delegates he'd have to win to become the nominee, it's a — it's a very difficult road for him."

Update at 9:30 p.m. ET. A Very Conservative Electorate:

Chris Cillizza, of The Washington Post, gives us some context surrounding tonights electorate and how big a win it would prove for Romney:

"Forty-two percent of Mississippi voters described themselves as 'very conservative' while 36 percent of Alabamians saw themselves in that ideological light."

...

"Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has won only three states — Florida, Nevada and Arizona — where the 'very conservative' vote was 33 percent or higher. Two of those — Arizona and Nevada — have very large Mormon populations, which are widely supportive of Romney."

Update at 9:27 p.m. ET. County By County:

Henry Barbour, brother of former Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour, is tweeting his county-by-county impressions. A couple of insights:

-- "very early #s in MS - I see encouragement in Jasper County (rural) for Gingrich and good news for @MittRomney in Belhaven District 7"

-- "Jasper Co, MS - rural - Good for Newt & he needs to run well in rural MS to win - Newt 39.2%, Santo 32.8% & @MittRomney 23.1%, Paul 4.8%"

Update at 9:19 p.m. ET. Santorum Takes Lead In Miss., Ala.:

The latest numbers from Mississippi with 14.7 percent of the vote counted:

-- Santorum leads with 33.4 percent; Gingrich has 30.4 percent; Romney has 30.1 percent of the vote.

The latest numbers from Alabama with 4.5 percent of the vote counted:

-- Santorum leads with 34.2 percent; Gingrich has 29.2 percent; Romney has 28.2 percent.

Update at 9:10 p.m. ET. Discussing Gingrich's Future:

On CNN, Ari Fleischer, President Bush's former press secretary, says if Gingrich doesn't win tonight, he will get out of the race. "It's not his goal to bring down the party," Fleischer said.

If Gingrich doesn't win tonight, said Fleischer, it means he has shown that he can't win anywhere but South Carolina.

Update at 8:59 p.m. ET. Too Close To Call:

NBC News' Chuck Todd tweets:

"We are now declaring BOTH AL and MS 'too close to call'; less than 3 points separating 1 and 2 in all our models."

Update at 8:46 p.m. ET. A Test For Santorum, Gingrich:

Talking to our Newscast unit, Larry Sabato, the director of University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said these two Deep South primaries are a test for the campaigns of Santorum and Gingrich.

Sabato had a couple of zingers:

Gingrich, whose campaign is on "life support," needs to win. "If he can't win in the Deep South, where can he win? He has a better chance on the moon," Sabato said.

Santorum, Sabato added, has to win at least one state tonight. If he doesn't "it really becomes difficult for him to convince much anyone [that he can win the nomination] outside immediate circle and family."

Today, he said, will determine only how long Romney will have to wait to claim the nomination.

Update at 8:37 p.m. ET. First Results In Miss.:

With 0.1 of Mississippi's precincts reporting: Romney: 63 percent; Santorum: 22.2 percent; Gingrich 11.1 percent.

Update at 8:34 p.m. ET. First Results In Ala.:

Results are now trickling in in Alabama. With 0.1 percent of precincts reporting: Santorum: 32.6 percent; Romney: 28.8 percent; Gingrich 26.1 percent.

Update at 8:30 p.m. ET. Hearts Vs. Minds:

The AP reports that today's vote is playing out the way it has tended to play out this entire primary season: According to exit polls, it's a battle between hearts and minds. The pragmatists, who are seeking a candidate who can oust President Obama, are choosing Romney, while those looking for a "true conservative ... with strong moral character" are choosing Santorum.

Update at 8:27 p.m. ET. More On Miss. Exit Poll:

Paul Begala tweets:

"Wow. Just 3 pts separate 1st from 3rd place in our #CNN MS exitpoll. Romney 33 Santorum 30, Gingrich 29. #CNNElections."

Update at 8:17 p.m. ET. Evangelicals Vote For Romney:

As we pointed out earlier, conventional wisdom is that evangelical voters have tended to cast their ballot for Santorum. But The New York Times' Nate Silver says not to count Romney out of the race in Mississippi, because evangelicals are voting in his favor:

"Exit polls had Mr. Romney taking 35 percent of the evangelical vote in Mississippi, with Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum each at 31 percent.

"He was doing somewhat worse with them in Alabama, however, where he had 27 percent of the evangelical vote in the exit polls."

Update at 8:05 p.m. ET. Polls Are Closed In Ala., Miss.:

The polls are now closed in both Alabama and Mississippi. We should start getting some real results soon. Here you'll are live county-by-county results for Mississippi and Alabama.

Update at 8:01 p.m. ET. Exit Polls:

Here are the first numbers from CNN's exit polls in Alabama:

-- Santorum: 34 percent

-- Romney: 29 percent

-- Gingrich: 28 percent

And Mississippi:

-- Romney: 35 percent

-- Gingrich: 30 percent

-- Santorum: 29 percent.

Update at 7:52 p.m. ET. 80 Percent Evangelicals:

According to exit polls, ABC News reports that 8 in 10 of voters in Mississippi and Alabama are evangelicals. ABC adds:

"Seven in 10 are conservatives; four in 10, "very conservative" – and more than half of voters in both states describe Mitt Romney as not "conservative enough." That leaves just about a quarter in Alabama and a third in Mississippi who describe Romney as "about right" ideologically, many fewer than the number who say so about Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich alike. Perhaps partly as a result, Romney trails both Santorum and Gingrich in Alabama, and Gingrich in Mississippi, in being seen as the candidate who best understands the problems of average Americans."

According to CNN's exit poll numbers about 40 percent of voters consider themselves "very conservative." And those voters, as expected, tended to pick Santorum.

Update at 6:54 p.m. ET. An Endorsement From Ala. Governor?

The Birmingham News says as voting day unfolded the most interesting development was that Gov. Robert Bentley cast a vote for Rick Santorum.

The Santorum camp was excited, casting the vote as an endorsement.

Not so said Bentley in a Facebook message.

"I view Rick Santorum as the most conservative candidate in the Republican presidential primary," Bentley said. "I have chosen not to publicly endorse a candidate. I believe a vote is a personal decision that should be based on a voter's values and principles, not on someone else's opinion. After being asked who I would vote for, I responded that I had personally chosen to vote for Rick Santorum. The Republican primary features a strong pool of candidates, and I will fully support the Republican nominee chosen by the people."

Update at 6:25 p.m. ET. A Final Look At The Polls:

The last poll taken in both Alabama and Mississippi show tonight could be a nail-biter:

-- In Alabama, a poll released today by Capital Survey Research Center has Romney over Gingrich by 1 percentage point and leading Santorum by 6. The margin of error is 4.4 percentage points.

-- In Mississippi, a Public Policy Polling poll released yesterday has Gingrich over Romney by 2 percentage points. Santorum is 6 percentage points behind Gingrich.

Here's how Dean Debnam, president of PPP, framed tonight's primaries:

"About all we know for sure about Tuesday's primaries is that Ron Paul will finish last in them. Beyond that it's plausible that any of the candidates could finish between first and third in both Alabama and Mississippi."

Update at 6:18 p.m. ET. What's At Stake?

NPR's Shirish Date sent along this helpful guide to tonight's contests. The delegates at stake are:

-- Alabama: 47

-- Mississippi: 37

-- Hawaii: 17

-- American Samoa: 6

Each state, he adds, has three unpledged delegates and all three states "allocate delegates by congressional district and statewide, largely proportionally."

We also have a fancy — but easy to use — delegate tracker here. You'll see that so far 644 delegates have been awarded and here's how that shakes out:

-- Romney: 357

-- Santorum: 143

-- Gingrich: 111

-- Paul: 31

1,144 delegates are needed to win the GOP nomination.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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