Erika Johnsen
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The Southern states of the U.S. of A. are perhaps not Mitt Romney's natural territory -- as evidenced by Newt Gingrich's wins in South Carolina and Georgia and Rick Santorum taking Tennessee on Super Tuesday. This Tuesday's primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, however, are so far looking like fairly close races, according to Rasmussen:

Rasmussen Reports’ first Republican primary survey in Mississippi shows former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leading his closest competitors by eight points. A new statewide telephone survey of Likely GOP Primary Voters in the Magnolia State shows Romney with 35% of the vote, while former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich each draw support from 27%. Texas Congressman Ron Paul runs last with six percent (6%).

Alabama Republicans are up to bat next, and right now it’s a near three-way tie going into next Tuesday’s primary. The first Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters in Alabama finds Newt Gingrich barely ahead with 30% support to 29% for Rick Santorum and 28% for Mitt Romney. Texas Congressman Ron Paul trails with seven percent (7%) of the vote.

Gingrich and Santorum will both want these victories badly, and not only because they're lagging way behind Romney in overall delegates: if Gingrich wins neither state, he'll likely call it quits, and Santorum will want Gingrich out to bolster his status as the stalwart Romney-Alternative. Romney, however, would also do well to take the two Southern states, because Gingrich-or-Santorum wins will further delay the moment when all conservatives final rally behind the eventual nominee. So it's kind of... I don't know, cute?... that he's trying, right? Maybe? (Tina Korbe is a much more authentic Southerner than I am; check out her post on the AL/MS-primaries outlook!)

Update: It seems that, in fact, Gingrich is insisting he'll continue to the convention in August, regardless of whether or not he wins Mississippi or Alabama on Tuesday. (Excuse me while I go stifle a huge groan...)

Spurning calls for him to get out, Newt Gingrich insisted Friday that he'll stay in the race for the Republican presidential nomination even if he loses two Southern primaries next week.

"I think there's a fair chance we'll win," the former House speaker told The Associated Press about the contests Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi. "But I just want to set this to rest once and for all. We're going to Tampa."

Gingrich said he intended to campaign all the way to the Republican National Convention in August, regardless of whether he has won the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

His comments contradicted assertions by a key aide that Gingrich must win both states to remain viable.

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Erika Johnsen

Erika Johnsen is a Web Editor for Townhall.com and Townhall Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @erikajohnsen.