Today's primaries in Mississippi and Alabama are playing an unexpectedly pivotal role in the GOP presidential race. What to keep an eye on, per NPR and Politico:
- Will Mitt finally win in the South? He's failed to take any of the southern states so far, but he's polling well in both Alabama and Mississippi. Will today be the day he proves he can compete in the famously conservative region? Both states veer particularly sharply to the right, so both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum really want to beat Romney here to burnish their conservative bona fides.
- Will Newt lose in the South? Gingrich has called both states must-win for him; in order to stay in the race, he'll likely have to win at least one and perform well in the other.
- Will Romney win both? It may seem unlikely based on his history with southern primaries, but polls put him either in the lead or tied in both states, he has the best organization, and many Republican leaders back him. If he manages to win both, he'll basically have the nomination sealed up.
- What about Santorum? It's Gingrich chasing Romney in both states, meaning Santorum will likely not get his clear shot at the anybody-but-Mitt vote. But even if Gingrich wins, he won't push Santorum out of the race.
- How are the delegates distributed? It's all about the delegate count at this point, and—assuming no one candidate wins a majority—the delegates will be distributed in both states based on the percentages each candidate wins.