Santorum Wins Alabama, Mississippi as Romney Fades

Updated from 8:41 p.m. ET, with results

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Rick Santorum won GOP primaries in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday, dealing Mitt Romney's presidential hopes two more setbacks.

Santorum has won both states, according to The Associated Press, and Mitt Romney still hasn't won a Southern state in the 2012 race.

Rick Santorum

Santorum won Mississippi with 33% of the vote, while Newt Gingrich, Romney and Ron Paul trailed at 31.3%, 30.2% and 4.4%, respectively. About 91% of precincts have reported.

Santorum won Alabama at 34.9%, with Gingrich, Romney and Paul trailing at 29.5%, 28.4% and 5%, respectively. About 75% of precincts reported.

"After Gingrich's strong showing in Georgia, it's a no-brainer for him to put all his eggs in one basket into Alabama," says a Santorum aide. "It's extremely tight, and we're poised to perform extremely well in both states."

"Obviously with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and current Gov. Phil Bryant both putting their support behind Gov. Romney, it makes it a little bit more difficult, but we've not given up hope there," the aide says.

Polls had shown Gingrich virtually deadlocked with Romney in Mississippi and Alabama, with Santorum close behind. Due to a dearth of polling in Mississippi (a Rasmussen Reports survey on March 9 and a Public Policy Polling survey on Monday) it was difficult to predict a result there.

An average of Alabama polls showed Gingrich slightly ahead of Romney at 28.5% to 28.3%, with Santorum behind at 25.8%, according to RealClearPolitics.com.

The gripe against Romney has been his inability to win Southern primaries -- a required battleground for any Republican to win the general election. A Romney win in both states would have bolstered his nomination chances, but it was still unlikely to knock off his opponents for the broader race.

"The only thing remotely at stake tonight is whether Gingrich will drop out of the race, but it now appears to me that all four people are committed to just go the distance," says Jack Burkman, a Republican political strategist who has worked on three previous presidential campaigns.

Burkman says that if Romney won Mississippi and Alabama, it would bolster his chances, but that it wouldn't be enough to force anyone out.

So why do the rest stay in the race?

Paul hasn't said he would do otherwise. The Texas congressman has a nice lump of cash on hand and an organized campaign that knows exactly when and where it wants to campaign through the entire primary season.

Gingrich has shown strength in the South, and with Sheldon Adelson almost single-handedly funding the super PAC that supports the former speaker, he can continue to compete.

Santorum is second in delegates, amid rumblings that the former senator could get a vice presidential nod if he forces a brokered convention.

The South on Tuesday didn't get the memo on Romney's inevitability, and the race could remain a four-man brawl.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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