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Why Louisiana could stop Romney’s Southern slide

at 06:30 AM ET, 03/22/2012

Mitt Romney is going to the South again, and if past is prologue, it means he’s walking into another loss.

Romney is now 0-for-6 in contested Southern primaries, including a pair of losses two weeks ago in Alabama and Mississippi.
Women dance in baby doll outfits during the Zulu Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans last month. (REUTERS/Lee Celano)

But as is often the case in Louisiana politics, it might be a little more complicated than that.

In fact, there is an argument to be made that Louisiana, whose primary is Saturday, is more fertile ground for Romney than any of the six Southern states where he has lost to this point.

So let’s make that argument, in five parts:

1. Evangelicals and Catholics

Louisiana is the least evangelical and most Catholic Southern state to vote so far. And both of those are good for Romney.

While Romney’s struggles among evangelicals have been well-documented, Rick Santorum’s struggles among Catholics (of which he is one) are pretty striking as well.

Catholics comprise about one-third of the vote in Louisiana, and Santorum has lost all five states were that has been the case: Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire and Ohio. Tuesday in Illinois, for example, Santorum lost the Catholic vote by 23 points.

While about one-third of Louisiana GOP voters are Catholic, evangelicals are still a strong majority — 57 percent according to 2008 exit polls. But that’s significantly less than any other Southern state, which have all been at least two-thirds evangelical.

Romney has lost every state where more than half the electorate was evangelical — so that’s still not great for him — but Santorum has lost every state that was around one-third Catholic.

Something’s got to give.

2. Newt Gingrich

While Gingrich was a non-factor in the Illinois primary on Tuesday, he retains some goodwill in the South.

In fact, he took so much of the vote in Alabama and Mississippi — around 30 percent — that Santorum was held below 35 percent in each state and Romney actually had a shot.

If Gingrich takes a significant share of the vote again (which is an open question, given his lack of resources), its could open the door to Romney in Louisiana just like it did in Mississippi, where Santorum only beat Romney by about 2 percent.

3. Momentum

The situation this year is actually pretty similar to 2008.

That year, Louisiana’s primary was held four days after a Super Tuesday that made John McCain the presumptive nominee. Because of that momentum, the moderate McCain nearly knocked off a favorite son of the South — from neighboring Arkansas, no less — in Mike Huckabee, losing 43 percent to 42 percent.

4. The suburbs

Louisiana is the least rural Southern state to vote so far.

According to 2008 exit polls, 22 percent of voters came from urban areas and 59 percent came from the suburbs. That means just 19 percent came from rural areas — a number far lower than any other Southern state.

“While Santorum holds a natural edge, particularly in central and northern parts of the state, Romney is helped by Gingrich’s presence on the ballot,” said Lenny Alcivar, a GOP strategist who has worked in Louisiana. “Meanwhile, suburban voters eager to defeat Obama may be more inclined to support Romney than they otherwise would.”

5. Mississippi

While the more rural parts of Louisiana may be more demographically friendly to Santorum than Romney, take a look at what happened in Mississippi:
((Washington Post graphic))

As the graphic above shows, Romney won the majority of counties in western Mississippi, just off the north and central Louisiana border.

If he can come close to that on Saturday, he will probably have won his first Southern state.

“This is Romney’s greatest opportunity to show more strength than the pundits predict,” Alcivar said.

Kerrey fends off ballot challenge: Former senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) has survived a long-shot legal challenge from Republicans seeking to bar him from appearing on the ballot in this year’s open Senate race.

Kerrey recently moved back to Nebraska from New York City, and Republicans have sought to reinforce that fact through their legal challenge.

But it was doomed from the start; the Constitution only holds that a senator must live in the state on the day he or she is elected.

Republicans had tried to argue that state law required a candidate to be a resident of the county in which they are registered to vote. But, as expected, Secretary of State John Gale ruled that the Constitution was the lone standard that can be used.

“As we have been saying all along, and as today’s decision reaffirms, Republican leaders have been trying to rig this election in their favor,” Kerrey said in a statement.

Fixbits:

Santorum says Paul Ryan’s budget doesn’t cut enough.

Dave Weigel notes that Wednesday wasn’t the first time Romney’s campaign has bungled the morning after a big win.

Meet Gingrich’s unconventional chief of staff.

President Obama’s campaign Web site gets more traffic than his GOP opponents combined.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), who previously backed Rick Perry, is now endorsing Romney.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) rejects secret service protection.

The New York Conservative Party endorses attorney Wendy Long over Rep. Bob Turner (R-N.Y.) in the state’s Senate race. The two will also face off for the GOP nomination, but the Conservative Party’s decision should further undermine whatever shot Turner had at beating Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), because now Long will appear on the ballot on the Conservative Party’s line.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) gives $500,000 from his campaign account to the Club for Growth’s political action committee.

Democrats add five of their new nominees in Illinois to a program for top congressional challengers and open seat candidates.

It’s Long Island vs. Jersey, as Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) criticizes Chris Christie.

Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.) faces a well-funded primary opponent.

Must-reads:

Is big GOP money finally flowing to Mitt Romney?” — Jack Gillum, AP

GOP primary battle throws Maryland voters into the spotlight” — John Fritze, Baltimore Sun

Obama tries to reclaim advantage on gas prices, health care” — Amy Gardner and Scott Wilson, Washington Post

Money problems underscore challenges for Newt Gingrich’s campaign” — T.W. Farnam, Washington Post

Romney’s road to nomination paved by dedicated delegate counter” — Jason Horowitz, Washington Post

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