After months of fluctuation in the polls and media perception of who could emerge to challenge Republican Presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, it appears that two Deep South primaries could set the stage for the remainder of the race.
The contests in Alabama and Mississippi, two deeply conservative states, will likely determine which of Romney's two remaining rivals will have the chance to mount a convincing campaign against the GOP front runner.
Romney maintains his lead at the top of the GOP field, bolstered by strong advantages in fundraising and organization.
But in recent electoral contests he has been battered by losses to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and much of the conservative establishment remains deeply skeptical about the former Massachusetts Governor.
If Santorum is able to win the southern states that vote on Tuesday, he will make his case as the conservative alternative to Romney play much more strongly among activists and donors moving forward.
However, if former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considered to have an advantage in the Deep South, can claim either one or both of the victories in Alabama and Mississippi, it will muddy the waters considerably for conservative voters.
But despite Gingrich's victories in South Carolina and his home state of Georgia, the former House Speaker has shown a limited ability to appeal to the general electorate or to voters in key swing states.
So even if Gingrich is able to continue his "southern sweep" of GOP primary contests, it remains distinctly questionably as to whether he will be able to continue on and claim the nomination.
Indeed, even if Romney is only able to pull off the second place finishes in Alabama and Mississippi that the polls currently place him, such results could be considered a victory.
For with Gingrich winning the two important races - the votes in Hawaii and American Samoa which happen on the same day are unlikely to measure heavily in the contest - it could revive the candidacy of the former Speaker.
And as long as Romney's conservative rivals continue to divide their votes between Gingrich and Santorum, the more likely it is that the former Massachusetts Governor will claim the nomination.
by RTT Staff Writer
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