US Republican Presidential Candidates Court Southern Conservatives

Posted March 12th, 2012 at 3:45 pm (UTC-5)
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The top three Republican presidential candidates focused efforts on the southern United States Monday, on the eve of two nominating contests there.

Polls indicate a close race among Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in Alabama and Mississippi. Those states are important as candidates seek to win over conservatives and widen their support among the party base.

Former U.S. House speaker Gingrich also is looking for a comeback after a win last week in the southern state of Georgia. The only other state he has won so far is South Carolina, and failure to take at least one contest Tuesday could accelerate calls for him to drop out and let Santorum stand as Romney's sole conservative challenger.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is far ahead in the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican Party nomination. But he continues to struggle to attract support from working class voters and religious conservatives, who have been drawn to his main rival, Santorum.

In a boost for Romney, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows he leads President Barack Obama in a hypothetical election matchup, 49 to 47 percent. On the other hand, the survey, which has a margin of error of four percentage points, shows Mr. Obama leading Santorum by 49 to 46 percent.

Romney won Wyoming on Saturday, and six contests last week on Super Tuesday, including the crucial battleground state of Ohio. Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, won a caucus in Kansas on Saturday, days after scoring three Super Tuesday wins .

U.S. Representative Ron Paul, who has not won a nominating contest, has single digit support in Alabama and Mississippi.

The Pacific island state of Hawaii and the U.S. territory of American Samoa also vote Tuesday.

Candidates are awarded delegates through the primaries and caucuses, and a contender needs 1,144 delegates to win the Republican nomination.

The Republican Party will formally nominate its presidential candidate at its convention in Tampa, Florida, in late August. That nominee will face President Obama, a Democrat, in the November election.