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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Battle for Dixie: Santorum wins Alabama, Mississippi

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum secured a pair of dramatic wins in Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday that severely damaged Newt Gingrich‘s campaign, which had said that the former House speaker needed to win in the Deep South.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, again failed to deliver a knockout blow, but increased his delegate count while finishing third behind Gingrich in both states.

With 99 percent of the precincts reporting in Mississippi, Santorum leads Gingrich by 1.7 percent with 32.9 percent of the vote. In Alabama, with 97 percent of the precincts reporting, Santorum leads Gingrich by 5.2 percent with 34.5 percent of the vote. Romney is a close third, and Ron Paul brings up the rear in both states.

The three top candidates spent the last week campaigning in Dixie, indulging in the obligatory tasting of grits and catfish, talking of sports and, in one case, trotting out a well-known Southern comedian.

Romney, the frontrunner for the nomination, viewed the contests in Mississippi and Alabama as opportunities to show that he could win in the Deep South. The only Southern state Romney has won so far is Virginia, where his lone opposition on the ballot was Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Instead, with its two third-place finishes, Romney’s campaign announced that it had won delegates and looked to the yet-to-be-decided contests in Hawaii and American Samoa to salvage the night.

“I would like to congratulate Rick Santorum on his victory in Alabama and Mississippi,” Romney said in a statement. “I am pleased that we will be increasing our delegate count in a very substantial way after tonight. Ann and I made a lot of new friends in Alabama and Mississippi and we look forward to campaigning in those states in the general election.”

Santorum needed the wins in the Southern states to establish himself as the sole conservative alternative to Romney. His campaign has been arguing that he would be leading in a one-on-one race with the former Massachusetts governor if Gingrich was not in the way.

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