Huffpost Politics

Rick Santorum Rooting For A Mitt Romney Sweep?

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Ed Morrissey, a conservative blogger who founded HotAir.com, has written a column for The Week that argues two things. First, Morrisey writes, the primaries in Mississippi and Alabama are not that big of a deal. And second, he says that the biggest thing that could come out of Tuesday night is losses for Gingrich in both states, pushing the former House speaker to drop out of the race.

Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, needs wins badly. He only has two in 26 contests: South Carolina and his "home" state of Georgia. He came in third in Tennessee last week, the only other southern state contest. Gingrich needs wins in both Alabama and Mississippi to claim the South as his base, which will be a key bloc for Republicans in the general election. Losing one of the two to Santorum won't necessarily be immediately fatal to Gingrich's credibility, but losing one or both to Romney would be. Romney seems to have faded a bit from an initial strong poll showing in Mississippi, but he's within a point or two of the lead in Alabama. Winning a southern state from Gingrich would give Romney bragging rights, having won in multiple, diverse areas of the country, while Gingrich's inability to beat Romney practically next door to the state he claims as his base would undermine his potency as a conservative alternative to Romney in April and May. If that happens, or if Santorum wins both Alabama and Mississippi, Gingrich might be persuaded to withdraw from the race. That may be the only game-changing scenario at play in tonight's contests.

Morrissey has endorsed Rick Santorum. And both of his points are ones that are basically arguments that help Santorum. He makes a good point that the GOP primary is slowing down, with the pace of contests becoming glacial. There are four contests left this month, then a week-long break before three states go to the polls on April 3, and then a three-week break. But if Santorum loses Tuesday and doesn't get any wins going forward, it doesn't matter how much time there is, because he won't have the momentum he desperately needs to make up ground in the delegate war.

Morrissey's piece raises an interesting question: if Santorum is going to lose both Mississippi and Alabama, then is his campaign hoping that Romney wins both? A Gingrich win in either state would stave off pressure for him to drop out. A Romney two-fer, then, might be the best case scenario for Santorum, even if it's not a very good one. It would give a big boost to Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, to get two wins in the Deep South, and put Santorum on very weak footing. But if Santorum is already going to suffer a bad result, he would at least like to see his main rival in the non-Romney competition vanquished, allowing him the one-on-one showdown with Romney that he is seeking.

And Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley was making an argument that sounded a lot like Morrissey's on Fox News Tuesday morning.

"Look, we had no pressure on us. I mean, Gingrich basically said he had to win these two states, and that was the southern strategy he had ... If he doesn't run away with it, he might have an issue," Gidley said.

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