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Can Santorum or Gingrich break away in the South?
Each conservative hopes to emerge as the race's true anti-Romney after Alabama and Mississippi Republicans cast their presidential ballots on Tuesday
Heading into critical GOP presidential primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are running neck and neck with Mitt Romney.
Heading into critical GOP presidential primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are running neck and neck with Mitt Romney.
T.J. Kirkpatrick/Corbis
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s voters in Mississippi, Alabama, Hawaii, and American Samoa prepare to put their stamp on the Republican presidential race on Tuesday, all eyes are on the Deep South. The most recent polls show a surprisingly close three-way race between Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich in Alabama and Mississippi. Both states are considered must-wins for Gingrich and important pickup opportunities for Santorum, who proved once again that he can win conservative states with a crushing Saturday victory in Kansas' caucus. But conservative voters remain split between the two not-Romney candidates. "My heart wants Newt, my head wants Santorum," Ed Holliday, a dentist in Tupelo, Miss., tells The Wall Street Journal. Will voters deliver a definitive verdict in the deep-red Deep South?

Gingrich could break this open: Newt's only victories so far have been in the Deep South (Georgia and South Carolina), so Alabama and Mississippi are fertile ground, says Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal. If Newt pulls out those two victories on Tuesday, "Santorum will be blown out of the water" and see his momentum disappear. And even if Newt loses, he isn't going anywhere. Remember, Santorum may have won more states, but because many of those contests were caususes with unbound delegates, "Newt is ahead [of Santorum] by the official count" of bound delegates. That's really "animating the Gingrich people."
"Going South"

A Santorum win would neuter Newt: In this wild race, "anything could happen" — even Gingrich pulling a "triple Lazarus" and reviving his campaign once again, says John Cassidy at The New Yorker. Still, Newt seems hopeless outside of the South, and if the more versatile Santorum wins Alabama and Mississippi, he's "well positioned to pick up Missouri next Saturday," then sweep Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin. Newt can't survive a string of defeats like that — and such a winning streak would surely give Santorum the "Big Mo."
"Three men out on the bayou — will one fall in?"

Whatever happens, Romney wins: Even if Mississippi and Alabama insist on "ignoring the fact that there is one clear and away frontrunner" and back Santorum or Gingrich instead of Romney, Mitt may still "walk away the day's winner," says Rick Klein at ABC News. He's sure to win at least some delegates in the Southern states, and he's a lock in Hawaii and Samoa, so he may even pad his delegate lead. And that's Romney secret weapon: He's the only candidate organized enough to "win delegates in every obscure corner" of the country.
"Mitt Romney's math beating rivals' momentum"

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