Few stories about life in the Deep South are without some reference to the region's conservative politics or Protestant religions. And now Mitt Romney finds himself smack-dab in the middle of back-slapping, good ole' boy politics that have defined these two southern states for decades. The question is, can a Mormon from the northeast connect with Protestants from Dixieland?
GOP leader and self-defined Southern Baptist A.B. Lowther thinks voters in Alabama and Mississippi will look past religion and region to find the best candidate who can defeat President Obama in November.
"All I can say is I know a little about how Mitt Romney must feel," Lowther, who heads up Romney's efforts in Elmore County, Ala., told The Christian Post. "To me, Mitt seems to be an 'introvert' by nature and so am I. As someone who grew up in the Northeast, I understand what he's going through since I've been here for 20 years."
"Part of Romney's weakness is also his strength," Lowther said. "He seems to be more comfortable in a board room than he is on the campaign trail and I'm not saying that's all bad. I mean, let's look at Obama and Bill Clinton. The opposite is true for them and we haven't fared too well under their leadership either."
Yet Lowther, who holds a Ph.D in political science from the University of Alabama, thinks Romney is still in a better position to beat Obama than the other three GOP hopefuls.
"I empathize with Romney. It's tough to be all things to all people, but what matters most to me is their character – their forfeiture and their wisdom. That's where I think Mitt holds the edge. All I hear people say in Alabama is I'll vote for anyone but Obama."
When asked about the religion differences between Romney and his two primary rivals, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (both of whom are Catholic), Lowther hesitated for a moment before answering.
"Well, how much does the average southerner know about Catholicism?" he asked. "Not much in my opinion."
"I firmly believe the vast majority of our Founding Fathers were religious and understood our country needed some type of moral undertone in order to succeed. I don't think Southerners agree that you need to go through a priest or Mary to have a personal relationship with Jesus. But most everyone I know in the South wants a government who has a moral compass and that's not what I see from the White House."
Herman Cain, who has endorsed Gingrich, was making a campaign swing through Alabama with Public Service Commission candidate Kathy Peterson, when CP caught up with him.
Cain said he thinks Romney has the same problem with Southern voters that he had in 2008. "He just doesn't connect with them," he said, but quickly added that to Romney's credit, "he now has one-third of the delegates" needed to win the nomination.
"Mississippi and Alabama are states that I am hoping Newt will do well in," added Cain. "But he (Gingrich) has a big uphill battle for the nomination. If neither Newt nor Rick [Santorum] do well on Tuesday, they'll have some soul searching to do. I know. Making the decision to leave the race is more difficult than to enter, in my opinion."
In the latest Rasmussen Reports poll in Alabama conducted on March 8, Gingrich held a slight one-point lead at 30 percent, followed closed by Santorum with 29 percent and Romney with 28 percent.
However, the margin of error among the 750 likely GOP voters was +/- four percentage points, which makes the contest a statistical dead heat.