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Morning Jay: Romney’s Victory and the Growing Regional Divide Among Conservatives

6:00 AM, Feb 1, 2012 • By JAY COST
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This should not come as a huge surprise. Geographical issues have really been part and parcel of American electoral politics since the beginning of the 1800s –Thomas Jefferson and his Republican party basically continued the policies of Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, but because the former were from the South, the outrage in Dixie was virtually nonexistent. Something like that might be going on here – with Southerners simply being more comfortable with the Speaker of the House from Georgia rather than the governor from Massachusetts, even though both claim to be conservative and have very little space between them in terms of policy proposals. The opposite looks to be holding true in the North.

This is still a tentative conclusion, but it would seem to be terrible news for Gingrich. If he cannot find a way to appeal to Northern conservatives, he is going to lose the nomination by a very large margin, for two reasons. First, he just got walloped in Florida, a winner-take-all delegate state, and he is going to collect exactly zero delegates from Virginia because his name is not on the ballot. It is an enormous challenge to be the Southern candidate who does not win any delegates from two of the largest Southern states.

Second, the electoral and legislative power of the South has long depended upon an alliance with the West. In fact, the electoral strategy of nearly every major Southern candidate for national office dating back to Thomas Jefferson has been to unite these two regions. Gingrich is going to have a huge problem recreating this because many Western GOP electorates are relatively moderate now – e.g. California and Oregon – or have very strong Mormon blocs. Romney finished a distant third to John McCain in 2008, but check out his strong performance in the Mountain West (and note that the contests in Idaho and New Mexico happened after he dropped out of the race). That's the Mormon vote in action.

A final note: Gingrich looks to have been damaged in Florida after he fell off the strategy that initially brought him to the front of the pack – which was his relentless focus on the issues. His engagement with Romney in terms of negative campaigning seems to have taken a toll on his numbers, at least in Florida.

Bottom line: Nobody wins a party nomination when his unfavorable rating is 40 percent, or when he gets blown out of the water among women. If this is the start of a trend, Gingrich is finished.

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