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Crowley: Strong showing for Romney in South could be beginning of end

By Candy Crowley, CNN Chief Political Correspondent
updated 3:21 PM EDT, Tue March 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rick Santorum hopes to derail Newt Gingrich's Southern strategy
  • Gingrich promises to stay in the race to the end
  • Latest polls show a virtual tie between Gingrich and Mitt Romney in Mississippi
  • Some Republicans are beginning to agree with Romney's delegate math

Wolf Blitzer talks to Mitt Romney about his campaign and how he thinks today's primaries will affect the GOP contest. Watch "The Situation Room" today at 5 p.m. ET on CNN.

Washington (CNN) -- Rick Santorum hopes to parlay his weekend win in Kansas into a strong Tuesday in Mississippi and Alabama.

The idea is to blow up the Southern strategy of Newt Gingrich's campaign and muscle Gingrich out of the race.

And, voila — a face-off with Mitt Romney.

"We feel good we're in a position to win it outright. If we have to go to an open convention, we like our chances just as well," Santorum said at a rally in Tupelo, Mississippi, over the weekend.

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Two things stand in the way of Santorum's plan: Mitt Romney and Gingrich, who seems to thrive on down but not out.

" I think we'll have a good day on Tuesday," Gingrich told CBS's "Face the Nation." "And I am committed to going all the way to Tampa," the site of the Republican convention.

The Sound of Sunday

Romney, the front-runner and leading expert on media-free Sundays, was not seen over the weekend. But on Saturday night, while Santorum was swamping him in Kansas, his campaign was e-blasting reporters, noting that with the delegates he won in Kansas — along with those from Guam, Wyoming and the Northern Marianas Islands — Romney got more delegates over the weekend than Santorum.

"In what was hyped as a big opportunity for Rick Santorum, he again fell short of making a dent in Mitt Romney's already large delegate lead," an e-mail from the Romney campaign read.

Given the, ahem, convoluted delegate rules in each state, CNN stats indicate the weekend was more like a tie.

That means Romney still has a good lead in overall delegates. And some Republicans, weary and wary of a long primary season, are beginning to count things his way.

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"Mathematically, this thing is about over, but emotionally it's not," South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham said on ABC's "This Week."

Why isn't Romney connecting with GOP voters?

Two-time GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes told me that Romney is the likely nominee, "But he's going to, at the rate he's going, he's going to limp over the finish line."

Candy's Take: Why they keep running

A new ARG poll in Mississippi gives Romney a slight lead in Tuesday's contest but shows Gingrich within the sampling error, meaning they're basically tied.

And another in Alabama released Monday shows Gingrich leading, but Romney just a few points behind, again within the sampling error.

Two Deep South wins for Romney would be a stunner, driving the race emotionally and mathematically toward the finish line.

It is also not likely.

Illinois, anyone?

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