Why Mitt Romney's Problems in the South Matter

Romney's failure to galvanize religious conservatives and working families in the South could cost the presumptive GOP candidate the election.

By + More

Does Mitt Romney have a Southern problem? Is the Pope Catholic?

There are two more Southern primaries next week. Mitt Romney would rather have two root canals than campaign in Alabama and Mississippi. Last week the former governor of Massachusetts lost primaries in Tennessee, Georgia, and Oklahoma. He only won 59 percent of the vote in Virginia even though his only opposition was poor Rep. Ron Paul who hasn't won in any state so far. Romney also fared badly in southern Ohio and in the Florida panhandle.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

Tuesday, the Massachusetts moderate has to do well enough in Alabama and Mississippi to prove that he can mobilize the GOP southern base vote in the fall. There is as about as much enthusiasm for the former liberal in Dixie now as there was for Abraham Lincoln in 1861.

What is Mitt Romney's problem in the South anyway?

If you have paid enough attention, it's pretty obvious why Romney has problems in Dixie. Country club Republicans in the upscale suburbs of Cleveland and Detroit see him as one of their own. Blue collar southerners just aren't Richie Rich's kind of folks. Romney's "jokes" about plastic poncho-wearing Daytona 500 fans and $10,000 bets rub working class southerners the wrong way. The exit polls indicate that Romney's money can't buy him love from downscale voters in the South or anywhere else for that matter.

[Read the U.S. News Debeate: Is Romney Vulnerable in the South?]

Romney's blue collar blues are pale in comparison to the problems he has with Christian conservatives in the South. Former Sen. Rick Santorum easily beat Romney in Georgia and Tennessee with voters who described themselves as born-again Christians. And there are a lot more born-again Christians in Alabama and Mississippi than there are in Ohio and Michigan.

Even more troubling for Romney is his weakness in the exit polls among southern GOP voters who want a president who has high moral standards. Now it's understandable that a guy like Newt Gingrich, who has had more wives than Romney has had positions on healthcare, doesn't do well with morality voters. But Romney like Santorum has been married to the same woman for decades and there's never been a whiff of personal scandal. So what gives here? Do born-again Christians associate Mormonism with low moral standards? Inquiring minds want to know.

Realistically, the president has no chance of beating Romney in Alabama or Mississippi. But Romney's failure to galvanize religious conservatives and working families in the South could cost the presumptive GOP candidate in states like Virginia, North Carolina, or even Georgia. If President Obama can win two of these states, Romney will have a hard time graduating from the Electoral College.

  • See pictures of Mitt Romney.
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy
  • Follow the Thomas Jefferson Street blog on Twitter at @TJSBlog.