But a new Alabama State University poll suggests that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is rapidly gaining strength in the state.
The poll, conducted statewide over the past month, found 28 percent of likely GOP primary voters remain undecided on their choices heading into the state’s March 13 primary. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich had the support of 18.9 percent of respondents; Santorum had 18.3 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had 15.2 percent.
The poll did not include Texas congressman Ron Paul, who was grouped in a category labeled “Others” that included candidates that have since dropped out of the race. Myles Mayberry, manager of demographic research services for the Center for Leadership and Public Policy, said Paul stood at 4 percent in the most recently conducted poll.
The momentum appears to be Santorum’s: The poll showed the former senator’s strength more than doubling since early February, when he stood at 8.7 percent. Gingrich, meanwhile, has seen his numbers slide from a high of 26.9 percent the week of Feb. 2. Romney’s support was flat throughout the month.
The poll had a 95 percent confidence level, with a confidence interval of plus or minus 5 percent.
Santorum’s momentum continued Friday; his campaign announced an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville.
Even with the former senator’s momentum, Thomas Vocino, executive director of ASU’s Center for Leadership and Public Policy, said the large number of undecideds suggest a little effort could bring victory to any of the contenders.
“A media campaign that is extensive could turn around the campaign for any of the candidates,” Vocino said. “And the only person who could run an extensive media campaign is Mitt Romney.”
The poll also found widespread dissatisfaction with the federal government. 52 percent said President Barack Obama’s leadership “had gotten worse” over the past four years. 56 percent said the U.S. Senate’s leadership had also declined, while 46 percent gave the U.S. House of Representatives poor grades.
Alabama will have 46 delegates at stake on March 13: 23 statewide, and three in each of the state’s seven congressional districts. Mississippi will also hold its primary that day; Hawaii will conduct a caucus.
Alabama’s delegates will be awarded on an at-large and proportional basis. Should a candidate get more than 50 percent of the vote statewide and in each congressional district, that candidate will win all the delegates.
However, if a candidate gets less than half the vote – and another candidate gets at least 20 percent – the delegates would be awarded on a proportional basis. The formula would apply statewide and in each congressional district; it would be possible, for example, for a runner-up in the statewide race to pick up a delegate if they manage to get 20 percent in an individual congressional district.
The eventual Republican nominee is likely to win Alabama in the fall. But coming after the “Super Tuesday” primaries on March 6, Vocino said the state could have a role to play in the nomination process.
“If Rick Santorum can achieve a victory in Alabama, that gives his candidacy that much more credibility and makes him a contender for the Republican nomination,” he said.