Tuesday’s two Deep South primaries – seen by many as Newt Gingrich’s last chance – are too close to call, according to an election-eve survey by Public Policy Polling.
“About all we know is that Ron Paul won't win any of these states on Tuesday ... the other three candidates all have a shot in both of them,” the Democratic-leaning polling company’s president, Dean Debnam, said.
“Beyond that, it’s plausible that any of the candidates could finish between first and third in both Alabama and Mississippi.”
National front-runner Mitt Romney scores 31 percent in both states. That’s enough to put him barely ahead in Alabama, where 50 delegates are up for grabs on a proportional basis. Gingrich has 30 percent and Rick Santorum stands at 29 percent.
But in the neighboring Magnolia State, which has 40 delegates, also decided proportionately, Gingrich scores 33 percent to put him two points up on Romney, with Santorum on 27 percent. Paul is trailing in single figures in both states.
The margin of error for the polls, which were conducted over the weekend, was 3.8 percent in Mississippi and 4 percent in Alabama.
Gingrich has said he will not pull out of the race for the Republican nomination even if he loses in both Southern states. However many political observers believe his chance of winning the nomination is dead unless he manages to pull out victories.
Debnam says it isn’t even clear who has momentum going into polling day.
“In Mississippi, folks who've decided in the last few days go for Gingrich over Santorum, 37-29, with Romney at only 15 percent. But in Alabama the late deciders go 38-29 for Romney over Santorum with Gingrich at 23 percent.”
PPP says both states have a large number of Republican primary voters who consider themselves “very conservative" – 44 percent in Mississippi and 45 percent in Alabama. Romney has about one-in-four of these votes, but is still contending in both races because Gingrich and Santorum are splitting the remainder.
PPP asked Republican voters four other questions unrelated to Tuesday’s ballot. In both states, slightly more than half said they have a favorable opinion of radio talkshow host Rush Limbaugh.
The pollsters also asked the GOP voters if they believe President Barack Obama is a Christian or a Muslim. In Mississippi, more than half – 52 percent – said they believe he is Muslim. In Alabama, 45 percent responded Muslim.
Two out of three in Mississippi and three out of five in Alabama said they do not believe in evolution, while 29 percent of those in Mississippi and 21 percent in Alabama said they believe interracial marriage should be illegal.
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