Poll: Santorum up, but Romney likely GOP winner

(CBS News) BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - The focus is on the deep South in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, with Mississippi and Alabama holding primaries Tuesday.

In a CBS News-New York Times poll out Monday morning, GOP voters nationwide give Rick Santorum a four-point edge over Mitt Romney, 34 percent to 30 percent, with Newt Gingrich getting 13 percent and Ron Paul 8 percent.

But 73 percent say they expect Romney will get the Republican nod.

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We all know about good ole Southern hospitality, but for Romney, the South has been a bit unfriendly.

He may have just enough friends this time, though, if the large block of conservative voters splits between Santorum and Gingrich.

Battling for the key conservative vote in a tight three-way race, Santorum suggested Sunday it's time for Gingrich to stop playing the spoiler and get out. "At some point," he said, "it becomes irrelevant whether he's in the race. I think this is going to become a two-person race."

Santorum has momentum, with a win over the weekend in Kansas. That puts him well ahead of Gingrich in the delegate count.

Santorum has now won in seven states, giving him 179 delegates. Gingrich has won just two states -- South Carolina and Georgia -- and has 97 delegates. Romney is still way ahead, with 428 delegates. The magic number to get the nomination: 1,144 delegates.

A win in Mississippi or Alabama Tuesday is critical for both -- but especially for Gingrich, who's defiant in the face of growing pressure to quit.

On Sunday, he tried to point out the big differences between him and Santorum -- and predicted another Southern win. "I represent the Reagan tradition of very large ideas," Gingrich asserted on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "He represents being a team player on a Washington team."

The split only helps Romney, who would have an uphill climb in the conservative South.

His Mormon faith continues to be an issue for some evangelical voters. In a radio interview, he was asked pointblank whether he believes America -- rather than Israel -- is the Promised Land.

"Do you," as the questioner put it, "as a Mormon, believe that America is the new Promised Land? Yes or no?"

"You're gonna have to go talk to the church and ask them what they think about that," Romney responded. "There is no question as to the fact that Israel is the Promised Land."

And on the campaign trail, Romney's trying to fit in. "Good morning, y'all. Good to be with you. I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits," he said at one stop.

That triggered some grits one-upsmanship from Gingrich, who told a crowd, "I just wanted to reassure all of you that I have had some acquaintance in a variety of forms (with grits), whether it's with shrimp, with cheese, with gravy. I get it."

To see Jan Crawford's report, click on the video in the player above. Also, a separate new poll shows high gas prices hurting President Obama. For that and other analysis of the state of the GOP race, from National Journal White House correspondent Major Garrett, click on the video below. Garret talks about it with "CBS This Morning" co-hosts Charlie Rose and Erica Hill:

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

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