With Super Tuesday behind them, the Republican presidential candidates are gearing up for potentially critical contests in Alabama and Mississippi on March 13. For decades, the rule of thumb for Republican hopefuls has been: You have to win the South to bag the party's nomination. But this year, national frontrunner Mitt Romney, who has roots in the Midwest and Northeast, has failed to connect with Southern voters. He even conceded that Tuesday's Deep South votes will be "a bit of an away game" for him. And yet, because of his string of wins elsewhere, Romney is the strong favorite to emerge as the GOP nominee. Has the South lost its influence?

The South has become "irrelevant": In election after election, the GOP nominee has "minted his crown in South Carolina," says David Weigel at Slate. But this year, the Palmetto State picked Newt Gingrich, who almost certainly won't be the nominee. Meanwhile, Romney — the almost certain nominee embraced by the GOP mainstream — hasn't come within 9 percent of winning a Southern state. You'd have to travel "far, far back in time to find another Republican primary where the South was this irrelevant."
"Down and out in the Deep South"

The South is still critical: Tuesday's "challenging" Southern primaries are the "biggest test" yet for Romney, says Holly Bailey at Yahoo. And while Team Romney argues that it's "nearly impossible" for Santorum to catch the frontrunner nationally, more losses in the South would hurt Romney's ongoing attempt "to woo the party's conservative base," "prolong the primary," "limit Romney's ability to establish momentum," and damage his aura of inevitability. Clearly, the South matters a great deal.
"Mitt Romney faces challenging primaries in Mississippi and Alabama"

Of course the South matters... in November: The South remains "a critical building block for any winning GOP coalition in the fall," says Nia-Malika Henderson at The Washington Post. But Romney has to "thread the needle." If he embraces "extreme" stands on abortion and immigration, he might just win over reluctant Southern conservatives. But doing so could make him toxic to independents in a matchup with President Obama.
"Deep South primaries offer little hope for Romney, opportunity for Santorum"