Exit polls: Good support for Santorum, Romney in Mississippi, Alabama(CNN) -- Early exit poll data indicated Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney may have done well inthe Alabama and Mississippi GOP presidential primaries Tuesday, outcomes that woulddent the hopes of Newt Gingrich, whose only victories so far have come in the South.The data showed the three candidates in tight races in both states. In Alabama, exit polls showedSantorum with 34% support from people who were polled after voting, with Romneyat 29%, Gingrich at 28% and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 6%.In Mississippi, exit polls had Romney with 33% support, with Santorum at 31%, Gingrich at 30%and Paul at 5%.A win down South for Romney, the front-runner in the GOP contests nationwide so far, wouldfinally give him a victory in a region dominated by social conservatives, who havebeen hesitant to support his candidacy.Gingrich, the former House speaker, was under the most pressure to take both states. He has woncontests in South Carolina and Georgia, which he represented in Congress for twodecades, but has finished third or worse in most contests outside the region.Election night live blogSantorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, is coming off a big win in Kansas on Saturday butwould give himself a bigger boost in the battle to be the conservativealternative to Romney if he could beat Gingrich on his home turf. A victory would go againstexpectations, because polls released Monday showed Santorum running 8 to 10 pointsbehind Romney and Gingrich.Mississippi and Alabama polls were closed by 8 p.m. ET. Hawaii and American Samoa also holdcaucuses Tuesday.Forty-seven delegates are up for grabs in Alabama, with 37 at stake in Mississippi, all beingdivided proportionally. Both states hold open primaries, which mean Republicans,independent voters and Democrats can cast ballots in the GOP contests. Seventeen delegates are tobe allocated in Hawaii and nine in American Samoa. McCain: Romney will win the South Romney: Santorum at end of campaign Saltsman: Gingrichhas a lot to lose Looking ahead at Alabama and MississippiDelegate tracker | Delegate calculatorGingrich has campaigned intensively in Alabama and Mississippi over the last week."Hes got to do extremely well in Alabama and Mississippi just to stay in the race," AlabamaRepublican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said on CNNs "Starting Point" Tuesdaymorning.On Monday night, a top Gingrich adviser wouldnt predict victory, saying only that her candidatewas "competitive" in the races.
"Theres no must-win state, theres a must-win election this year. And the place that Newt canreally win and we see it in our polling also is on the debate stage with BarackObama," Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said.Romney also downplayed expectations. Speaking to reporters in Missouri, where he wascampaigning ahead of this months caucuses there, he said he expected to take about a thirdof the 84 delegates up for grabs in Alabama and Mississippi."If thats the case, why, that inches us closer to that magic number," Romney said.Romneys campaign has been holding up its large lead in delegates as a reason for Gingrich andSantorum to get out of the race.Romney is far short of the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination -- he holds a 459-203lead over Santorum, with Gingrich at 118 and Paul at 66, according to a CNNdelegate estimate.Another GOP strategist said he sees the delegate race as evidence that Santorums hopes aredimming."Given how far behind Santorum is from Romney with delegates, it looks like that path continuesto dim every day, which is very challenging for his campaign to overcome, becausethey now need to get 65% of the delegates that are still available, and so that path probably doesntexist, and if it does exist, then it needs to start with real wins and bigwins in a hurry," said Doug Heye, a GOP strategist and a former communications director for theRepublican National Committee. Whats at stake in Southern primaries? Ala. GOP chairman talks state primary Nosef: Miss.primary will be close race Gingrichs daughter on southern strategyBut Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart said Romneys mathematics argument is "not veryinspiring.""What he is doing is, they have put out memos and talked about the fact it would bemathematically impossible for Rick Santorum to come out ahead in this fight, when the truthis thats nothing more than a smoke screen to demonstrate the fact that he is not inspiring the base.He is not in touch with conservatives," Stewart told CNNs "AC360°.""What we are letting folks know today is the math is still a long way out. Rick is the trueconservative in this race. He is inspiring the base. And thats why he has got MittRomney up against the ropes."A leading Republican strategist said Romney could be the real winner on Tuesday night."I continue to think this is fundamentally about a delegate fight, so Im reluctant to talk aboutmomentum as an important story. But I do think there is a momentum story thatcould emerge after Alabama and Mississippi if Romney overperforms," said Gentry Collins, aformer political director for the Republican National Committee and the Republican
Governors Association."Much has been written about Romneys weakness in Southern state contests, and Santorum andespecially Gingrich have used a Southern strategy as a basis for arguing they had apathway to the nomination. On Super Tuesday, Romney took as many delegates out of theSouthern states as anyone else. But that story was offset because Gingrich and Santorumwerent on the Virginia ballot, and because the Romney campaign let Tennessee expectations getout of whack."But if he adds a win in either Alabama or Mississippi, and wins as many or more delegates thanany of the others, he will have shut his opponents Southern strategy down,"added Collins, who ran Romneys 2008 operation but is neutral this time around.Even if he doesnt win either Alabama or Mississippi, Romney will pick up delegates in both. Addto that a bunch of likely delegates in more moderate Hawaii, and Romney willprobably expand his lead.Results of all racesRomney picked up the endorsement of Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant last week. And whileAlabama Gov. Robert Bentley said he was going to vote for Santorum, he stressed later thatit wasnt a formal endorsement."I actually believe its not good to endorse people," Bentley told CNN on Tuesday evening."People in this state like to make up their own mind. And I certainly believe theyhave the right to do that." GOP hopefuls battle for the Deep South Will Southern primaries shape GOP race? Gingrich vs.Romney over grits Jeff Foxworthy endorses RomneyOne factor that could drive up the social conservative vote in Alabama is that states GOP primaryfor chief justice. Former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore is on theballot, which could bring out more of the social conservatives who are skeptical of Romneyscandidacy.Moore gained notoriety for having a large stone copy of the Ten Commandments installed in thestate Supreme Court building. He resisted a federal judges order that thecomandments be removed before he was removed from office in 2003.Romney has been trying out his Southern charm, saying last week on the campaign trail inMississippi that he was "an unofficial Southerner" and joking that "I am learning to sayyall and I like grits, and things. Strange things are happening to me."Romneys campaign and a pro-Romney super PAC have combined to spend nearly $2 million torun TV commercials in the two states. Southern comedian Jeff Foxworthy also joined him
on the campaign trail on Monday."I was able to avoid politics for 53 years and somebody said, Why in the world would you getinto it now? and the answer is its too important. Because I love this country,"said Foxworthy, campaigning with Romney in Alabama.Alabama results | County by county | MapGingrich threw a new wrinkle into the slow-Romney movement, suggesting he and Santorumteam up to stop the former Massachusetts governor."Theres a certain advantage I think right now in having both of us tag-team Romney, becauseneither one of us by ourselves can raise the money to match Romney," Gingrich saidon the "Rick and Bubba" radio show in Birmingham.But Santorum has suggested he wants Gingrich out of the race so the anti-Romney movement isno longer split between him and Gingrich.Voters of Alabama and Mississippi have the opportunity "to step up for us and say we want this toget to a two-person race," Santorum said at a rally Monday night in Montgomery,Alabama. "We want this to be a race where we have the opportunity -- not at convention, butbefore a convention -- to nominate somebody who can stand up for the values that thepeople of Alabama believe in and vote for every day."Mississippi results | County by county | MapBut if Santorum loses to Gingrich on Tuesday, it undercuts his argument that hes the conservativealternative to Romney."Rick Santorum has a little bit of a danger zone," said Republican strategist Chip Saltsman, whomanaged Mike Huckabees 2008 Republican presidential campaign. "He had a big winobviously Saturday in Kansas. He got a lot of delegates. Not a lot of coverage because everybodywas focused on Mississippi and Alabama."If he comes in third in both places, then theyre going to say, Well, is Newt now the conservativealternative? And well start that story again."http://www.coachoutletfactory2012.com