Updated from 10:28 a.m. with Tuesday poll results
NEW YORK (
) -- Can Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, win a southern state Tuesday?
Alabama and Mississippi present the next opportunity for Romney to prove he's a viable option for voters in the South, and that he can win conservatives there on his economic message.
"Social issues? Nah, they don't even make first base," said Clay Marlow, Morgan County, Ala., GOP chairman. "All that stuff about the birth control pill and all that, that was a joke; that was somebody trying to start something and it had no business trying to start it because people didn't buy it."
Romney lost South Carolina to Newt Gingrich in January after the former House speaker's favor surged in the final days among evangelical voters.
Tuesday's polls are showing what could be much closer primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, plus it does not appear that any candidate has ridden a wave of momentum into voting day.
The latest Public Policy Polling survey shows Gingrich ahead of Romney in Mississippi, 33% to 31%, while Rick Santorum and Ron Paul trail at 27% and 7%, respectively.
An average of the latest Alabama polls shows Gingrich inched slightly ahead of Romney Tuesday morning at 28.5% to 28.3%, with Santorum and Paul behind at 25.8% and 6.7%, respectively, according to
A victory in one of the southern states could signify a pivot toward Romney wrapping up the nomination. A close second-place finish in both states could also be seen as a positive result for Romney's campaign.
Regardless, Republicans will keep their eyes on the two states as strong showings for the former governor could be the moment when Romney becomes the inevitable Republican nominee.
-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York
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