How Santorum won the Mississippi primary

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gives a thumbs up during his election night party, Tuesday, March 13, 2012, in Lafayette, La. AP Photo/Eric Gay

Analysis

Rick Santorum pulled off a win in Mississippi tonight with a similar coalition of voter groups that led him to victories in states like Tennessee and Oklahoma -- however his winning margins with these groups were closer in the Magnolia state.

Santorum was able to close the deal with late deciders who made up a third of the electorate. Among Mississippi Republicans who decided on their candidate in the last few days, 40 percent cast their vote for Santorum, beating out Newt Gingrich (30 percent) and Mitt Romney (28 percent).

Full Mississippi results
Mississippi exit poll
Mississippi results by county

Santorum continued to perform well among voters who identified themselves as very conservative. Thirty-nine percent of this group supported Santorum, while 35 percent backed Gingrich. Romney won less than a quarter of these voters.

White evangelicals made up eight in 10 Mississippi primary voters and 35 percent of them backed Santorum. However, Romney managed to win 29 percent of these voters (a slightly better performance compared with Tennessee and Oklahoma); And 32 percent supported Gingrich, which made for a close race.

Santorum remains strong on the issue of character. Among voters looking for a true conservative or a candidate with strong moral character, Santorum dwarfed his main rivals. Fifty-eight percent of these voters backed Santorum, while just 21 percent backed Gingrich, and even fewer went for Romney (14 percent).

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As he did in Tennessee and Oklahoma, Santorum won the support of women voters in Mississippi. He got 35 percent of their support; 32 percent went for Romney, while 29 percent backed Gingrich.

Santorum also performed well with voters who picked the economy as the issue that mattered most in their vote, where he tied Romney.

Still, there are weaknesses for Santorum. While he pulled off a win in Mississippi, only 24 percent of voters viewed him as the candidate most likely to defeat President Obama. Romney led on this question with 49 percent.

Also, Santorum's Mississippi voters are not especially enthusiastic about him: 45 percent strongly favored him, but 43 percent had reservations about him. Both Romney's and Gingrich's backers were more likely to say they strongly favored their candidate.

Mitt Romney: Still Not Conservative Enough for the South

Romney is still having trouble convincing many voters that he has conservative credentials. Similar to Tennessee last week, 52 percent of Mississippi voters said Romney's positions on the issues are not conservative enough - about twice as many as said that about Gingrich (28 percent) or Santorum (24 percent). Among very conservative voters in Mississippi, seven in 10 said Romney is not conservative enough.

All in all, electability continues to be strength for Romney - 49 percent of Mississippi Republican voters said he is the candidate most likely defeat President Obama in November, far outdistancing his rivals.

Newt Gingrich

Mississippi Republicans did say Gingrich was the candidate that best understands the problems of average Americans, but he fell short with key voter groups. While he won the support of men in Mississippi, he finished third with women. Gingrich was not able to win enough evangelical and very conservative voters to overtake Santorum.

Looking ahead to November, 50 percent of Romney voters in Mississippi would be satisfied if Santorum were the party's nominee; slightly fewer Santorum supporters (47 percent) would be satisfied if Romney won the Republican nomination.

CBS News delegate estimates
Full GOP primary results

  • Jennifer Pinto

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