Mitt Romney's 'Southern discomfort': 4 ways the South hurts him

The Week

The reliably conservative region is rejecting the GOP's frontrunner for the presidency — and it's affecting his campaign in distracting ways

The mixed results from Super Tuesda's 10 contests underscored Mitt Romney's troubles connecting with voters in Southern states — reliably the reddest region of the country. Romney was handily defeated in Tennessee and Georgia, not to mention Oklahoma, which is as conservative as any state in the Deep South. And the former Massachusetts governor will have to once again confront his "Southern discomfort" head-on in the coming weeks, says Ed Kilgore at The New Republic, with primaries scheduled next Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi, and on March 24 in Louisiana. Here, four ways the South hurts Mitt:

1. The South will boost Romney's GOP rivals
Romney's aides say he already possesses a "nearly insurmountable" lead in the delegate race, but a swing through the South could give a boost to the campaigns of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. "Romney's weakness in the region is bound to cause him further headaches, if only by emboldening his GOP opponents to stay in the race," says Alan Greenblatt at NPR. Gingrich, who won his home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday, is even touting a "Southern strategy" — concentrating singlemindedly on picking up delegates in the South.

2. The South will push Romney further right
The region's "Bible Belt conservatism" could force Romney to "re-emphasize stances on social issues and illegal immigration that could sow trouble for him" in the general election, say Janet Hook and Cameron McWhirter at The Wall Street Journal. Romney desperately wants to "refocus his campaign message on economic issues" — but the South will keep social issues front and center for weeks. Come November, that will hurt Mitt with crucial independent voters.

3. More losses will highlight the base's displeasure
The more Romney struggles in the South, "the more it looks like he's got serious problems with the conservative base," says Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. And with three Southern states coming up, "that message is likely to be driven home again and again." Romney is in for "a difficult next ten days," says Matthew Jaffe at ABC News. He probably won't "put together any type of extended winning streak" until April.

4. Romney can't pivot toward Obama
The upcoming Southern primaries only "delay the possibility of a 'reset' — that moment when Romney can unite the party and turn his attention to President Obama," says Scott Galup at U.S. News & World Report. And given the steady decline in Romney's nationwide approval rating, he "desperately needs to reach that point sooner rather than later." Romney's approval ratings are dramatically lower than John McCain's were at this point in the 2008 race, notes Eric Zorn in a Chicago Tribune analysis. And look how well that turned out.

SEE MORE: 5 factors behind Mitt Romney's Michigan 'comeback'

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