AP

Rick Santorum is the winner of the Mississippi Republican presidential primary.

Rick Santorum has won the Alabama Republican presidential primary, Fox News projects, and is holding onto a narrow lead in Mississippi where the race is still too close to call.

The victory in Alabama is a major boost for Santorum, a state in which he was vastly outspent by Mitt Romney. 

“We did it again,” Santorum told a cheering crowd in Louisiana Tuesday night.

Romney is now in a battle with Newt Gingrich for second in the Alabama contest. With 55 percent reporting, Santorum was ahead with 35 percent — followed by Gingrich with 30 percent and Romney with 28 percent.

In Mississippi, Santorum retains a slight lead at the moment, though Gingrich and Romney are close behind. With 83 percent of precincts reporting there, Santorum is leading with 33 percent of the vote. Gingrich is slightly behind with 32 percent, followed by Romney with 30 percent. Ron Paul was at 4 percent.

Santorum’s win next door is a major blow to Gingrich. The former House speaker had been pinning his hopes for the nomination on a strong showing in the South after winning Georgia last week and South Carolina in January.

Santorum is meanwhile looking for a comeback night in the South, after winning three contests on Super Tuesday to Romney’s six. He notched another victory over the weekend in the Kansas caucuses, but Santorum’s delegate gains were effectively canceled out by Romney’s victories in several other low-key contests.

Fox News can project that Paul will come in fourth place in both Mississippi and Alabama.


Primary Coverage: Track the Results in Real-Time: Mississippi | Alabama


Exit polls, as they have in prior races, showed Romney doing best among moderates on Tuesday. In exit polls out of Alabama, Santorum was pocketing 41 percent among those who describe themselves as very conservative. Gingrich was pulling 36 percent among that group.

In the same state, Santorum led among evangelicals, followed closely by Gingrich. But Romney far outpaced his competitors on the question of who is most electable against President Obama — 46 percent chose Romney, while less than a quarter said the same for Santorum or Gingrich. Three percent thought Ron Paul was most electable.

The candidates have a lot riding on the results.

Shortly before polls closed, Santorum put renewed pressure on Gingrich to bow out of the race entirely, telling Fox News the former House speaker is making it “hard for me” to win primary contests without having much of a shot at the nomination himself.

The stakes certainly are high for Romney’s rivals. A win for Romney in the deep South would help the former Massachusetts governor prove he has broader appeal. But his competitors are in need of the delegates and momentum, which victory on Tuesday would provide.

Santorum, in an interview with Fox News, prodded Gingrich, claiming “conservative voters across the country have pretty much made a decision.” Santorum noted how he won the Kansas caucuses over the weekend with more than 50 percent of the vote.

“Newt finished well under 20 (percent),” Santorum said. “In most of the states, he is finishing fourth. He is getting enough votes to make it hard for me to win those states, but I don’t think that he is in the mix for getting the nomination at this point.”

Santorum has 217 delegates to Romney’s 454, according to the latest Associated Press tally. Gingrich has 107 and Paul has 47.

After Tuesday’s primaries, roughly half the states will have voted — and Romney still will not have the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, though he will be in a far better position to reach that threshold.

Mississippi and Alabama have 37 and 47 delegates up for grabs, respectively. Hawaii and American Samoa are also holding GOP caucuses on Tuesday.

Santorum said he thinks his campaign has an “excellent chance of getting to the number we need.”

But Gingrich told Fox News he’s not getting out, noting that he wanted Santorum to do the same thing when he was ahead in the polls.

“I’m going to Tampa,” Gingrich said.

The Gingrich campaign circulated a memo late Tuesday afternoon claiming the candidate is “well positioned” to win the nomination, citing the numerous Southern contests still on the horizon.

“This race is not going to be won or lost over backroom deals or endless and mind-numbing discussions in the media over delegate counts. This race is going to be decided by a big debate — a big choice — among GOP primary voters about the future of the Republican Party; what it stands for, and which candidate has the most compelling vision and most credibility to carry forward a conservative governing agenda,” Gingrich advisers said in the memo. “That is the debate Newt is going to win, and with it, the nomination and the election.”

Gingrich told Fox News on Monday night that Romney has “fewer delegates than he needs” and that plenty can happen in the second half of the race.

“I think when you look at the second half — think of Louisiana as the equivalent of halftime in a football game,” he said. “The first half was actually better territory for Romney than the second half. And I think as we go through the second half, it gets harder and harder for him to finally get to a majority.”

Romney, while shooting for victory on Tuesday, made clear that he doesn’t consider those contests to be must-win for his nomination chances.

“John McCain didn’t win either of these states, Alabama or Mississippi,” he told Fox News. “We are delighted that we are doing so well there. The polls are suggesting it is kind of a three-way tie. It is an away game for me.”

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