Voting in Alabama, Mississippi could clarify race
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Mitt Romney hoped to seal his status as the Republican presidential front-runner with a thus-far-elusive victory in the Deep South, a region that has been slow to embrace the former Massachusetts governor.
A pair of closely fought primaries Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi also could render a possible final verdict on Newt Gingrich’s Southern-focused candidacy and give Rick Santorum the two-man race he’s sought against Romney.
With polls showing an unexpectedly tight race in the conservative bellwether states, Romney campaigned Monday in Alabama — a clear indication that he was eyeing a potential win there.
Romney appeared with Southern comedian Jeff Foxworthy and poked fun at his own lack of hunting skills, saying he hoped to set out with an Alabama friend who “can actually show me which end of the rifle to point.”
Battling anew to be Romney’s main conservative challenger, Gingrich and Santorum both spoke at an energy forum in Mississippi, then took questions on religion in public life at a presidential forum in Birmingham, Ala. They took sharp aim at President Barack Obama, with Santorum labeling the president’s foreign policy “pathetic” and Gingrich taunting Obama as “President Algae” for an energy speech in which Obama spoke of research that one day would allow oil and gas to be developed from algae.
Gingrich has focused his campaign in recent weeks on rising gas prices, promising to bring the price to $2.50 per gallon if elected.
The Southern showdown came as new polling showed a steep drop in Obama’s approval ratings amid escalating prices at the pump and renewed turbulence in the Middle East.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 46 percent of those surveyed approve the way the president is handling his job, and 50 percent disapprove. A New York Times/CBS poll found 41 percent approval, and 47 percent disapproval.