Guy Benson

"We did it again," Rick Santorum marveled before a gathering of beaming supporters in Louisiana, having just pulled off another dandy evening by improbably winning Alabama and Mississippi's Republican primaries.  Watch as the candidate exults in his Alabama win, then learns about the Mississippi result while on stage:
 


The former Pennsylvania Senator won most major demographics in both states, each of which was laden with very conservative voters.  In 'Bama, Santorum carried women (Gingrich won men), every age group except seniors (who broke for Romney), independents, Tea Party supporters, evangelicals (who comprised 3/4 of the electorate), and those voters who said they were looking to back a "true conservative."  The exit poll results in Mississippi were nearly indistinguishable from its Eastern neighbor, almost to an uncanny degree.  What makes Santorum's dual victories so head-turning is the fact that he substantially out-performed public polling in both states.  In Alabama, only one poll showed Santorum leading during the entire month of March; in Mississippi, he led in...zero March polls.  Yet he won both.  Early exit polling from CNN indicated that Mitt Romney was positioned to narrowly win in Mississippi, but he ended up slipping to a very close third place in both states.  Do you think Romney regrets this comment?

So where do these results leave the overall state of the race?  Even though he may end up losing the day's delegate count -- more on that in a moment -- tonight was a very positive evening for Rick Santorum, for obvious reasons.  Mitt Romney's prohibitive leader status is essentially unaffected mathematically after tonight, but finishing third place in both states (a) isn't helpful to his 'inevitability' narrative, and (b) will feed the "weak front-runner" storyline his opponents on both sides of the aisle have been pushing.  Finally, Newt Gingrich had a crippling night.  His "Southern strategy" went up in smoke as he lost both states that his chief spokesman described as "must wins" for him to remain a "credible" candidate.  There is no path to the nomination for Newt, and you'd better believe the pressure from Republicans, especially Santorum backers, for him to get out of the race will intensify.  Newt has said he ain't going anywhere.

Momentum and narratives are one thing, but the real name of the game at this stage is delegates.  The Wall Street Journal's Neil King ran some back-of-the-envelope calculations and concluded that in light of the proportional allocation system in Alabama (where Rick Santorum's ballot access woes will cost him a handful of delegates) and Mississippi -- plus Romney's expected wins in Hawaii and American Samoa, the former Massachusetts governor stands a good chance of waking up on Wednesday morning with an expanded delegate lead.  As he addressed cheering supporters tonight, Santorum predicted that he'd win the nomination *before* the Republican National Convention in Tampa.  As we've explained before, that outcome is unlikely in the extreme, so I don't understand why he'd be that bold.  Political bravado, I suppose.  In all likelihood, the best he can hope for is to block Romney from getting to 1,144 then force a contested convention, a scenario with which he very recently sounded quite comfortable.

A final reminder: This election day isn't over.  Polls close in the Aloha State at 2:00am ET. 
 

UPDATE - Aw, Santorum winning Southern women "really hurts" MSNBC analyst Karen Finney.  The heart bleeds:
 


UPDATE II (2:15 am ET) - Mitt Romney has won all nine delegates from American Samoa.  Voter turnout: 70.


UPDATE III (3:30 am ET) - Hawaii voters on Twitter are warning me that their tallying process is notoriously slow, so I'm packing it in for the night.  As it stands, with 24 percent of precincts reporting, Mitt Romney holds a 31-28-26 lead (in percentages) over Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, respectively.  But Kauai hasn't counted a single vote yet...


UPDATE IV (7:30 am ET) Mitt Romney wins Hawaii with 45 percent of the vote. Rick Santorum took home 25 percent and Newt Gingrich raked in 11 percent.


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography