NEW YORK (
) -- Mitt Romney has nothing to worry about in the South.
Polls show the former Massachusetts governor trailing Rick Santorum by double digits in Louisiana ahead of the state's Saturday primary, but the ever-growing likelihood that he'll claim the GOP nomination may quickly erase the memory of his poor performances in the region.
"I don't think anyone's foolish enough to believe that Obama's a better alternative to Romney," said Tim Callanan, former GOP chairman of Berkeley County in South Carolina. "The South had a choice in the primary, and it was not Romney, but clearly they have a history of voting Republican.
The last time almost the entire South voted for a Democratic presidential hopeful was in 1976 when former President Jimmy Carter, a Georgia native, won every state in the region except for Virginia.
Since then, Southern states that have voted Democratic include Georgia in 1980 and 1992, Arkansas in 1992 and 1996, Louisiana in 1992 and 1996, Tennessee in 1992 and 1996, Kentucky in 1992 and 1996, Virginia in 2008 and North Carolina in 2008. (For those keeping count, Florida went blue in 1996 and 2008.)
Romney, who did win the Florida and Virginia primaries, has suffered among evangelical voters in the other Southern states as they've generally chosen Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich. But just because Southern conservatives and the large evangelical voting bloc aren't particularly excited about Romney, that doesn't mean they're ready to vote for President Obama.
"States that traditionally go to Republicans will go to Mitt Romney for one simple reason: Every single exit poll in this primary has said ...
voters' number one priority was ... defeat Barack Obama," said Jim Denton, a Republican political consultant in Nevada.
Denton did admit that a number of Southern states -- Florida, Virginia and North Carolina -- would still be in play for Obama to snap up in November.
The two major parties will likely spend a lot of money to stimulate voter turnout in those three states as they may hold the margin of victory.
"It will be one of Romney's biggest challenges as well, he's got to get people excited to come out ... and clearly that's not been the case," Callanan said. "The Obama machine has a great ground game and they'll be ready, it's a matter of whether Romney can build one for himself in these swing states fast enough."
Denton said he doesn't think Democrats will see the kind of turnout Obama received in 2008, which could potentially cause problems for the president and provide an opportunity for Romney to grab back three Southern states (Florida, North Carolina and Virginia) that had gone for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.
Though the Deep South states dominated by Santorum and Gingrich -- Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina -- showed very little exuberance for Romney, it is almost certain that the former Massachusetts governor can rely on their electoral votes in November. Romney could also probably anticipate winning Kentucky, Louisiana and Arkansas.
"So at the end of the day I think the South will vote the way the South always votes," Denton said. "They'll vote Republican."
-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.
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