Santorum shakes up GOP race with southern sweep

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DENVER -- Once again, Rick Santorum has denied Mitt Romney a chance to tighten his grip on the GOP presidential nomination with two wins in Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday night that only reinforce the front-runner's weakness with conservatives.

Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, finished second in both states, but without a win on his home turf -- the former Speaker is from Georgia -- he may now face increasing pressure to abandon his campaign and allow those primary voters not sold on Romney to coalesce behind Santorum.

In Alabama, where Santorum won a clear and convincing victory, his success was paced by voters who, according to exit polls, defined themselves as "very conservative."

Santorum won 35 percent of the vote in Alabama, followed by Gingrich who took 30 percent of the vote, and Romney who took 28 percent.

In Mississippi, the outcome remained in doubt until nearly all the votes had been counted, when Santorum had slowly amassed an insurmountable lead, eventually winning with 33 percent of the vote.

Gingrich, again, was second with 31 percent, followed by Romney, who took 30 percent.

"If you're the front-runner and you keep coming in third, you're not much of a front-runner," Gingrich told supporters in Birmingham, Ala., promising to remain in the race and trying to put a positive spin on a disappointing night.

Santorum addressed supporters in Lafayette, La., another reliably red, deeply conservative state which holds its primary next week and could deliver another blow to Romney.

"This campaign is about ordinary folks doing extraordinary things, sort of like America," Santorum said. "Going out there and exceeding expectations, going out there and deying the odds because we believe in something that's bigger than ourselves."

Romney, who campaigned Tuesday in Missouri, decided ahead of time that he wouldn't give a speech after the results came in.

One silver-lining for Romney: both Alabama and Mississippi award their delegates proportionally, which means the narrow wins by Santorum won't do much to cut into Romney's overall lead in delegates.

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