A week or so ago, it seemed incredibly unlikely that Mitt Romney would do well in tomorrow’s primaries in Mississippi and Alabama. Those deep, deep south states would seem to be hostile territory for a candidate whose only political experience is in Massachusetts, and whose strength so far has been moderate states and state with large Mormon populations. The only question seemed to be whether Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum would be the beneficiary of Romney’s presumed inability to connect with MS and AL voters.
And then something funny happened: polls started coming out showing Romney doing weirdly well in both states. As of now, 538’s forecast shows Romney with a 53% chance of winning MS, and a 39% chance of winning AL – though 538 also notes that MS and AL have been notoriously difficult to poll accurately in the past, which may mean that everyone’s in for a surprise tonight.
But let’s assume that the projections hold, and Romney wins MS and scores a solid second in AL. How could this happen?
Seems to me it could happen because Romney, for perhaps the first time in his political career, didn’t pretend to be something he wasn’t. He admitted that these states were “a bit of an away game”; he awkwardly and jokingly professed to “learning” to like grits and say “y’all.” He knows he’s a fish out of water down there; so does everybody else; and neither he nor anyone else is pretending otherwise.
And you know what? When a politician is honest both with himself and the voters, all of a sudden it’s a lot easier to get them to listen to what you have to say. If Romney went down to MS and AL and told the voters that they should vote for him because he’s just like them, they’d laugh at him and vote for someone else. But by saying, essentially, “I know I’m not like you, but listen to what I have to say anyway,” he’s actually reaching some of them.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the not-Mitt vote (which remains a majority, and therefore a real problem for Romney) seems to be fairly evenly divided between Santorum and Gingrich in both states (538’s projection in MS is Gingrich 33, Santorum 26, and in AL it’s Gingrich 32, Santorum 28). Nonetheless, if Romney does well tomorrow, I’d suggest that it was at least in part because instead of trying to paper over his inauthenticity like he usually does, he embraced it.