The Republican primary sweepstakes changed from a horse race to a dog race on Tuesday night.
Pundits didn’t quite know what to expect when four candidates with no real Southern ties (save for Newt Gingrich’s representation of a U.S. House district in suburban Atlanta) invaded Alabama and Mississippi.
Would the voters go with Mitt Romney, following the apparent conventional wisdom that he is the more electable candidate?
Would they veer toward Gingrich because of his feistiness and experience?
Would they prefer Rick Santorum because of his conservative stands on social issues?
All that was certain is that Ron Paul, despite a Libertarian Party presence in Alabama that has been consistent over several decades, would trail the field.
Santorum took both states, but his 33 percent in Mississippi was almost matched by Gingrich at 31 percent and Romney with 30 percent.
The results were more clear-cut in Alabama, where Santorum posted 35 percent, leaving Gingrich and Romney with 29 percent each.
In turning out this way, the Alabama Republican primary parallels the history of the Birmingham Turf Club, Alabama’s abortive attempt to lure well-heeled tourists and the allure of sophistication the locals have long envied in Atlanta.
It’s now called the Birmingham Race Course because it was doing so little business as a horse-racing track that it had to switch to dog racing, a sport with which Alabamians were already familiar because of dog tracks elsewhere in the state.
While the greyhounds chase the mechanical rabbit around the dirt track, other patrons may watch and bet on horse races. But the ponies are piped in via satellite from outside the state.
So, if the experts thought Romney was the thoroughbred horse, he must have become confused at the sight of all those canines.
If Gingrich smiles to himself when his adversaries call him a son of a female dog, he’s probably still smiling because he came in second in Alabama and ran a close third in Mississippi.
The less said about Santorum’s now infamous “man on dog” comment, the better. But after taking two Deep South states, he’s probably thinking every dog has its day.
Paul is still nipping at their hind legs.
The impeccably dressed and groomed Romney wasn’t the only candidate who felt out of place. Saying “y’all” and eating what he called “cheesy grits” for breakfast in Mississippi didn’t exactly establish his Southern credentials.
Haley Barbour eating unagi with wasabi would have looked more authentic.
Actually, Romney’s fellow candidates were just as obvious in their lack of equipoise amid Southern culture as he was. Santorum pulled out that old political bromide that his home state of Pennsylvania has been referred to as “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but Alabama in between.”
The people who say that aren’t being complimentary to Alabama, Rick.
In another pitiful attempt to relate to working-class Southerners, Gingrich called Chevrolet’s electric car, the Volt, an “Obama car” because “you can’t put a gun rack in a Volt.”
In response, General Motors spokesman Selim Bingol blogged, “That’s like saying ‘You can’t put training wheels on a Harley.’ Actually, you can. But the real question is ‘Why would you?’”
And, as Roger Miller so eloquently sang, “You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd.”
And you can’t run a horse race on a dog track in Alabama.