Santorum Sweeps, Romney Suffers in Southern Primaries

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As the Romney train rolls on, voters in Tuesday night's Alabama and Mississippi primaries signal they're not ready to get on board.

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Reuters

Updated 3/14/2012 6:20 a.m.

The Republican primaries have been both incredibly surprising and incredibly repetitive, and Tuesday night's Southern contests were no exception.

Once again, Mitt Romney's hopes for closure and acceptance from the divided GOP electorate were dashed. Once again, Rick Santorum outperformed the polls. Once again, the party's conservative base signaled it's not ready to fall in line.

Santorum won a surprising double victory in close races in Alabama and Mississippi, with Romney coming in a disappointing third behind Newt Gingrich in both states.

Romney's campaign had expected to win Mississippi and come close in Alabama, and both his camp and Santorum's hoped a distant third place for Gingrich would start to nudge the former House speaker out of the race. Both those hopes were destined to be dashed Tuesday.

In Alabama, Santorum was declared the winner with 35 percent to Gingrich's 29 percent and Romney, a couple thousand votes behind, also scoring 29 percent. In Mississippi, it was Santorum at 33 percent, Gingrich at 31 percent, and Romney at 30 percent. 

The results won't do much to change the delegate math, which continues to favor Romney -- you can expect to hear a lot about that from his campaign in the next few days. But they are nonetheless the latest stage in what's starting to seem like an ongoing ritual humiliation of Romney by the GOP base.

"We did it again!" a jubilant Santorum said from the stage in Lafayette, Louisiana, looking like he couldn't quite believe it himself. He grinned, shook his head and blew a kiss at the crowd. "We are going to win this nomination before that convention," he said.

He exited to the sweet harmonies of "Game On," the song recorded for him by a Christian folk duo called First Love: "Faithful to his wife and seven kids, he'll be loyal to our land," the angelic-looking blonde sisters sang. "Justice for the unborn, factories back on our shores!"

Gingrich, speaking in Birmingham, Alabama, took the opportunity to declare he would be staying in the race to the convention. "One of the things tonight proved is that the elite media's effort to convince the nation that Mitt Romney is inevitable just collapsed," he said. "If you're the front-runner and you keep coming in third, you're not much of a front-runner."

For his part, Gingrich exited to a hard-rocking song called "I Am a Real American," which was once the theme song and entrance music for Hulk Hogan. "If you hurt my friends, then you hurt my pride," goes the chorus. "I gotta be a man, I just can't let it slide."

Mitt Romney did not give an election-night speech. Late Tuesday night, his campaign released a statement: "I am very pleased that we will be increasing our delegate count in a very substantial way after tonight," he said in the press release.

Overnight Tuesday, Romney won a decisive victory in the Hawaii caucuses, and was also expecting a win in American Samoa. 

Next up in the neverending primary: Missouri caucuses Saturday, followed by the Illinois primary on Tuesday. Expect the unexpected, all over again.
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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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