The Washington Post

Is Gingrich primed for a Southern sweep?

Newt Gingrich appears in better spirits after a convincing win in Georgia on Tuesday, a victory he hopes to parlay into a strong showing in next week's Alabama and Mississippi primaries. If he is successful, the Post’s Chris Cillizza argues, Gingrich will stockpile enough delegates there — and in Louisiana later in the month — to cut a deal with Mitt Romney before eventually dropping out.

Can Gingrich run the table in the South’s remaining March contests? The data indicate it would be a steep uphill climb.

Exit polls show Gingrich won over evangelicals in his two wins — his home-state victory in Georgia and his win in South Carolina, back before Rick Santorum's emergence as a top-tier candidate in early February.

But Santorum won Tuesday in the two most evangelical states this year — Tennessee and Oklahoma — topping both Gingrich and Romney by double digits among born-again Christians in each contest. He also beat Gingrich among evangelicals in Massachusetts and Ohio on Tuesday, and by big margins in Michigan and Arizona last week.

Georgia exit polls also hint that Gingrich’s resounding victory may have been more connected to his home-state advantage than growing appeal among the GOP base. Gingrich won 81 percent of evangelicals who said his Georgia ties mattered in their vote, but only 31 percent of those who said they didn’t matter much; Santorum won 35 percent of the latter group.

Outside of Georgia, Gingrich has yet to catch Santorum among these core, religious conservatives. But there’s always next week.

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Scott Clement is the polling manager at The Washington Post, specializing in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.

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