Tonight features three contests in the Republican presidential race. There are primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, and there is a caucus in Hawaii. You can find my primer for tonight here.
Polls close in Alabama and Mississippi at 8 pm Eastern
7:55 pm – Early exit poll data indicates that in both states being able to beat Obama is considered the most important quality among a plurality of voters.
8:00 pm – All polls are now closed in Alabama and Mississippi. There are no immediate projections. The race in both states is close.
8:02 pm – You can find the Alabama exit polls here. So far Rick Santorum has small lead in the exit polling of Alabama. You can also find the Mississippi exit polls here. In Mississippi indicates are that Mitt Romney has a narrow lead.
8:07 pm – Despite the very conservative nature of Mississippi, exit polls have Romney doing surprisingly well. Romney tied Santorum with evangelicals who make up 80% of the vote in Mississippi. That is impressive.
8:10 pm – In Alabama Santorum is narrowly winning evangelicals. That is what is giving him the edge on Romney in that state.
8:15 pm – This could be the end of the Gingrich campaign. While the exit polling data is often revised once the votes start being counted, early indications suggest he will lose both Southern states. It will by hard for Gingrich to keep running if he loses this evening.
8:20 pm – Tonight is another reminder of just how extremely white the Republican party is. In Mississippi 97% of those voting in the primary tonight are white, overall the state is only 59.1% white. In Alabama 93% of the turnout is white, overall just 68.5% of people in Alabama are white.
8:25 pm – Gingrich and Santorum splitting the anti-Romney vote is what is saving Romney this evening. In Mississippi 50% of the electorate thinks Romney’s positions are not conservative enough, but Gingrich and Santorum are splitting that vote right down the middle. Each is getting 39% of the vote from people who think Romney is not conservative enough.
8:42 pm – Vote counting is going extremely slowly tonight. Basically no votes counted yet in either state.
8:55 pm – First results are just now starting to trickle in. In Mississippi with 2% reporting, it is Santorum 36%, Gingrich 30%, Romney 28, Paul 5%. This is likely going to be a late night.
9:05 pm – With 8% reporting in Mississippi, it is currently Santorum 32%, Romney 30%, Gingrich 29%.
9:20 pm – Counting continues to be incredibly slow in Alabama. In Mississippi with 17% reporting, it is Santorum 34%, Gingrich 31%, Romney 30%.
9:30 pm – Finally starting to get some real numbers from Alabama. With 4% reporting, it is Santorum 35%, Gingrich 29%, Romney 28%, Paul 6%.
9:35 pm – Results are now starting to come in pretty quickly. With 40% reporting in Mississippi, it is Santorum 33%, Gingrich 31%, Romney 30%. Santorum’s final margin in Mississippi might end up better than the original exit polling indicated.
9:45 pm – Mississippi is up to 60% reporting and Santorum still has the lead. Santorum 33%, Gingrich 31%, Romney 31%.
9:50 pm – In Alabama we now have 25% reporting. It is Santorum 35%, Gingrich 30%, Romney 28%. The night is still looking very good for Santorum.
9:53 pm – NBC projects that Rick Santorum will win Alabama.
9:57 pm – Most of the votes have been counted in Mississippi and surprisingly Santorum still has a lead. With 79% reporting in MS, it is Santorum 33%, Gingrich 32%, Romney 30%. At this point the best outcome in Mississippi for the Romney campaign might be for Gingrich to pull off a very narrow win and use it to justify staying in the race.
10:00 pm – The exit poll data has been revised in Mississippi and it now has Santorum narrowly winning.
10:10 pm – Not looking good for Romney tonight. He is not racking up the big margins in the urban areas he needs to.
10:20 pm – Now at 82% reporting in Mississippi. It is Santorum 33%, Gingrich 32%, Romney 30%.
10:30 pm – 88% reporting in Mississippi. It is Santorum 33%, Gingrich 32%, Romney 30%. Odds are extremely good Santorum will win Mississippi.
10:32 pm – Santorum is speaking now.
10:44 pm – There is now 96% reporting in Mississippi and it is Santorum 33%, Gingrich 31%, Romney 30%. It is basically impossible for Santorum to lose now.
10:46 pm – Fox News is projecting that Rick Santorum will win Mississippi.
10:50 pm – CNN is now also projecting that Rick Santorum will win Mississippi.
Final thoughts – This was a truly fanastic night for Rick Santorum. By winning the two Southern states he again proves that he is a serious contender. These wins should also help Santorum convince donors to continue to fund his campaign and inspire his volunteers to keep turnout to support him.
In addition Santorum’s double win proves that Gingrich’s Southern strategy is a failure. If Gingrich losing both Mississippi and Alabama can convince him to drop out that would be huge for Santorum. Romney has been depending on Gingrich and Santorum splitting the anti-Romney vote.
Mitt Romney again had a chance to end the primary quickly but failed to close the deal. The Republican primary just got a lot longer.