Social conservatives a la Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee stand to win Alabama in 2016

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While top-tier candidates Marco RubioJeb Bush and Scott Walker have never before faced the Alabama electorate, it’s safe to say that more socially conservative alternatives to the frontrunners stand to do well here in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, if history is any indication.

In 2012 it was Rick Santorum who won the hearts and minds of Alabama’s GOP primary voters, capturing fully 35 of the state’s 67 counties on his way to a 6-point victory over runners-up Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, who each took 29 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 35.

Santorum has yet to make up his mind another bid for the White House.

If he opts not to, the natural beneficiaries would likely be former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, both darlings of the conservative radio and press outlets that are often decisive in Deep South presidential politics.

The relatively low totals Alabama voters gave Romney, a heavy favorite to win the nomination by the state’s late-ish March 13 primary, represented a rejection of the “establishment” candidate, a mantle especially likely to fall to Walker or Bush.

Despite a controversial open primary system throughout the state, 80 percent of Alabama primary voters in 2012 indicated they were supportive of the Tea Party, a trait strongly tied to success for Santorum’s campaign that year. The former Pennsylvania Senator also took home a plurality of 2012 convention delegates in Kansas, North Dakota, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul‘s campaign has been careful to keep his father Ron Paul at some distance, likely a wise choice here in Alabama: Congressman Paul pulled in just 5 percent of ballots cast in the state in 2012, around half his national average among all primary states.

Three quarters of 2012 state primary voters also identified as “white evangelical or white born-again Christians,” a demographic in which strongly pro-life and pro-gun candidates like Huckabee and Santorum excel.

Should Santorum announce he would be considered a frontrunner here, though the dynamics of who would win which slice of an ever-shifting GOP body politic is still very much an open question.

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