In a classic example of expectations management, Mitt Romney talked to an Alabama radio station last week about his efforts to compete in the Deep South, downplaying his chances. "I realize it's a bit of an away game," the former Massachusetts governor said.
It's a nice trick the Republican presidential hopeful is trying to pull off: if he comes up short today in Alabama and Mississippi, it's not supposed to matter too much since this isn't Romney's neck of the woods. If he wins, the arguments goes, Romney has done something amazing, and the "away game" victories should end the nominating race.
Putting aside the hype and expectations, it's pretty obvious that Romney has gone all out to win in Alabama and Mississippi, campaigning aggressively in the Gulf Coast states over the last week, and picking up the support of much of the states' Republican establishment.
If Romney has a good day, it'll be because he invested considerable amounts of time, energy, and money to win. If he falters, Romney shouldn't get away with saying, "These primary losses don't really count."
I put together this chart, based on data from Zeke Miller, showing what the three major Republican presidential campaigns spent in the two states. (The Hawaii GOP's caucuses are also today, but the campaigns aren't making an effort there.)
To be sure, the conventional wisdom a week ago was that Romney was not expected to be competitive in Alabama and Mississippi. But he's well positioned today precisely because Romney went all out, assuming that primary wins here would lock up the GOP nomination.
Given Romney's efforts, win or lose, these primaries count.