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Mississippi, Alabama primaries: 5 counties to watch

at 04:33 PM ET, 03/13/2012

Need to know where to look to figure out who’s having a good night in the Alabama and Mississippi presidential primaries? We’ve got you covered.

We asked a handful of political operatives in both states to give us the one (or two) counties that will tell us something significant about how former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are faring tonight.


"I voted" stickers were ready to pass out Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at the Francis Collins Fitness Center in Gulfport, Miss. (AP Photo/The Sun Herald, Tim Isbell )
The top five counties to watch in Mississippi and Alabama are below. They are listed alphabetically.

* Baldwin County (Ala.): Baldwin is the second most Republican county in the Yellowhammer State, taking in much of the eastern suburbs of Mobile (even though Mobile Bay separates the two counties). While the suburban portions of Baldwin should go for Romney, its more rural enclaves will feature a battle between Santorum and Gingrich.

* Harrison County/Jackson County (Miss): Sure, we are cheating by combining two counties into one entry. But, these two counties are the major coastal counties in the Magnolia State. Romney’s organization in the state is at its best along the coast and his campaign has lavished time on the area. (Comedian Jeff Foxworthy endorsed Romney — although the candidate wasn’t there — in Biloxi on Monday.) There is also a heavy gambling contingent in the coastal counties making them less socially conservative and, theoretically, more friendly to Romney.

* Lee County (Miss.): Lee County includes Tupelo, the largest city in northeastern Mississippi and the birthplace of one Elvis Aron Presley. Lee is the unofficial home of social conservatives in the state and, if Santorum is going to win the Magnolia State, he has to run up the score in Lee.

* Rankin County (Miss.): If you believe that the race in Mississippi is between Romney and Gingrich then Rankin County is where it may be decided. The county, which sits due east of the state capitol of Jackson (Hinds County), is blue-collar, which should tilt it toward Gingrich. But, Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves — both of whom have endorsed Romney — are from Rankin and have been working hard to bring it home for the former governor. (Worth noting: All seven statewide elected Republicans in Mississippi have endorsed Romney.) Countering the Bryant/Reeves influence is Gary Harkins, the powerful Rankin County Republican chair, who is working on Gingrich’s behalf.

* Shelby County (Ala.): This suburban Birmingham county is the most reliably Republican in the state. Shelby is very conservative — Arizona Sen. John McCain carried Shelby by 50,000 votes in the 2008 presidential race — but its voters may well be driven by fiscal rather than social issues. This must be a good county for Romney if he wants to win statewide. One added bonus: The contested Republican primary fight between Rep. Spencer Bachus and state Sen. Scott Beason is being fought — at least partially — in Shelby County.

 
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