Kansas City, Missouri (CNN) -- Mitt Romney lost the Alabama and Mississippi primaries to Rick Santorum on Tuesday, but he continued the long slog for delegates, which his campaign believes will eventually secure him the nomination.
Romney and his advisers played down the importance of winning both states in the hours before polls closed, and pointed instead to the proportionally awarded delegate totals Romney could add to his overall haul.
"You know, this is all about getting delegates," the former Massachusetts governor told reporters on his campaign plane Tuesday afternoon. "If the polls are right, we'll pick up some delegates. That's what it's all about."
Romney heads next to friendlier territory in Puerto Rico, where he has been endorsed by the governor, and Illinois, where he is expected to perform well in urban areas of the state.
The losses in the southern states Tuesday followed an effort by Romney's campaign that was more robust than expected. The campaign added events in Mississippi and Alabama over the weekend as he gained momentum in state polls.
Romney joked with audiences about his taste for "cheesy grits" and hugs from southern girls, as his rival Newt Gingrich scoffed at the former governor's attempts to relate to voters in the Deep South.
At his campaign rallies, Romney generally focused on his economic message, even as many voters in those states describe themselves as social conservatives.
A high-profile Romney backer in Mississippi blamed Tuesday's loss in part on low turnout in areas where Romney was expected to perform well.
In a statement released to the media in lieu of a primary night event, Romney returned to his focus on delegates.
"With the delegates won tonight, we are even closer to the nomination," Romney said in the statement. "Ann and I would like to thank the people of Alabama and Mississippi. Because of their support, our campaign is on the move and ready to take on President Obama in the fall."
CNN Political Reporter Peter Hamby contributed to this report