GOP heart of Dixie could be up for grabs

Dec. 13, 2011 at 11:44 AM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The battle among Republican U.S. presidential candidates to win over conservative, evangelical voters in the South is wide open, observers say.

Of the remaining brass rings, few are as desirable or coveted as support in the South and any successful challenger to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney recognizes he or she will have to dominate among Southern conservatives, Politico reported Tuesday.

One problem, though.

"There is nobody who is dominant in this region," said John Ryder, a longtime Republican National Committee member from Tennessee.

"That makes the contest even more open because the dominant region for the party doesn't have a dominant candidate," Ryder said.

Gov. Rick Perry, who shot out fast only to stumble recently, looked likely to nail down the South early on. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the current anybody-but-Romney favorite, polls well now, but insiders wonder if he has what it takes to dominate.

Looking at the potential for a dragged-out primary fight, observers say there's a likelihood none of the Republican contenders will have any distinguishing appeal in the core region of the GOP.

"We're a little more split up this time," said Henry Barbour, the Republican National Committeeman for Mississippi and a Perry supporter. "I don't think there's a natural favorite son of the South in this primary."

Ralph Reed, the Republican strategist who heads the Faith and Freedom Coalition, cautioned against dismissing Romney's chances in the South.

"I think it's a mistake to assume that Romney can't win a Southern state," Reed, a former Georgia Republican Party chairman, told Politico. "I think a place like South Carolina is tough. Georgia will be tough. But you know, a place like Florida, Texas, maybe even Tennessee is more doable."

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