Romney hits state, but skips north Mississippi

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Frontrunning Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney skipped north Mississippi during his campaign tour around the state, but polls show a Romney win in Mississippi is not out of the question.
Voters will cast ballots today, and of the four remaining Republican presidential hopefuls, only two made appearances in this part of the state. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stopped in Tupelo and Southaven, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum visited Tupelo twice.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul avoided Mississippi entirely. Other candidates on the ballot already dropped out of the race.
Romney’s campaign didn’t return messages to comment on the candidate’s strategy or why he skipped the northern part of the state. But Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves did come to Tupelo on Monday to stump for Romney.
The 1st District includes not only two of the top 10 most populous cities – Tupelo and Southaven – but also DeSoto County, a Republican stronghold with the third-highest number of registered voters, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Instead, the former Massachusetts governor stuck to the Jackson area and the Gulf Coast. His chief rivals, on the other hand, hit more than a dozen cities between them, from the Tennessee border to the Gulf of Mexico.
Gingrich and Santorum have much at stake in Mississippi. Winning this state, plus Alabama, could fuel either one of their campaigns while deflating the other. Both stand a good chance at success: Gingrich is a former Georgia congressman who relates to residents here; Santorum is a devout Catholic who shares their core values.
Romney has had troubles with the most conservative Republican voters across the nation, but he picked up endorsements from Mississippi’s top GOP leaders and has Southern comedian Jeff Foxworthy stumping for him now.
“It’s a three-horse race,” said Marty Wiseman, executive director of Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government.
“What’s surprising to me so far is that Romney has indeed gained some traction,” Wiseman said. “And if he doesn’t win but comes close, he might second-guess himself for treading lightly in Mississippi and Alabama on the assumption he wouldn’t be that popular down here.”
If he doesn’t win the state, he said, Romney’s light presence gives him an excuse that he didn’t try that hard in the first place.
Wiseman said he doubts north Mississippians feel snubbed by Romney’s absence or that it’ll make a huge difference in today’s election.
But some voters clearly are swayed by the kind of personal interactions that come only when the candidates make campaign stops.
“I’m going to vote for him,” Tishomingo resident Leslie Whitlock said after meeting Santorum on Sunday in Tupelo. “I hadn’t made up my mind until now. It’s nice he took the time to talk to everybody and pose for pictures.”
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com

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