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Inside Story: US 2012
Is the protracted primary battle backfiring?
As Republicans turn their attention to the southern states, we ask if a long contest will weaken the eventual nominee.
Last Modified: 10 Mar 2012 16:10

The focus of the primaries to choose a Republican presidential candidate now moves to the southern states. It follows Mitt Romney's victory in six of the ten states up for grabs on so-called Super Tuesday. But he failed to deliver the fatal blow to his rivals.

And so the march to the finish line continues. The next primary elections are on Saturday in Kansas, on Tuesday Alabama and Mississippi and shortly after that Missouri and Louisiana.

"We are staying in this race because I believe that it's going to be impossible for a moderate to win the general election... You can't have somebody where the gap between Romneycare and Obamacare is so narrow that you can't figure out what the debate is."

- Newt Gingrich

The area is known as the "bible belt" where a majority of Republicans are born-again Christians. And it is this demographic - the socially conservative evangelicals - which Mitt Romney struggles to win over. This is likely to only prolong the battle.

Another issue being discussed is whether Newt Gingrich should step aside and let Rick Santorum go head to head at Mitt Romney. At the moment the conservative vote tends to be split between Gingrich and Santorum.

And then there is Ron Paul who - despite not winning any states - is still in the race. He is vowing to press on and wants to pocket enough delegates to be influential at the party's nominating convention in August.

So will a long, protracted primary battle hurt the eventual nominee?

To discuss this, and more, we are joined by Peter Fenn, a Democratic strategist, who helped with the Obama campaign in 2008 and served as advisor to both John Kerry and Al Gore during their presidential campaigns; Michelle Goldberg, an author who has written a book about the evangelical movement called Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism; and Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist and former presidential campaign advisor.

"Within the Republican party we are seeing something that we haven't seen since 1966 and that's the head versus heart debate... Does it want to be the party of conservative ideals or the party of the status quo? But if they can unify in time and get behind it this is going to be a very close general election, decided in a handful of states given the status of the economy and rising debt crisis."

Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist


FACTS: THE LONG PRIMARY BATTLE:

  • There are 32 US states that have yet to hold nominating contests
  • A Republican candidate needs 1144 delegates to secure the nomination
  • Several conservative US states have yet to hold their primaries
  • The southern US states tend to favour Christian candidates
  • Mitt Romney admits he is struggling to connect with southern voters
  • Romney described the upcoming southern contest as an "away game"
  • Missouri held a non-binding vote last months, which Santorum won
  • Santorum and Gingrich are expected to do well in the South
  • Romney is expected to regain traction later this month
  • Recent polls show Obama leading all Republican challengers
Source:
Al Jazeera
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