Santorum, Gingrich aim to drub Romney in South

(CBS News) JACKSON, Miss. -- The Republican presidential contenders are focusing on next week's primaries in Mississippi and Alabama.

They provide an opportunity for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to make up ground on front-runner Mitt Romney.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, as much as admitted Friday that he's not exactly on his home turf in the South. But it's where the delegates are right now, with Mississippi and Alabama voting on Tuesday, and Louisiana a week later.

In Pascagoula, Miss., Romney gamely declared himself an unofficial Southerner, saying, "I'm learning to say 'y'all' and 'I like grits.' Strange things are happening to me!"

But earlier in the day, in a Birmingham, Alabama radio interview, he acknowledged the South is not his natural territory. "I realize," he said, "it's a bit of an away game, but I think we're going to pick up some support. I'm confident we're going to get some delegates."

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Romney was pummeled in the South four years ago. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee swept most of the Southern states.

"You have to be able to speak Southern an act Southern to understand the South," observes Larry Sabato, of the University of Virginia. "There is nothing Southern about Mitt Romney. He truly is Massachusetts and Michigan, with a dash of Utah."

Stumping in Tupelo, Miss. Thursday, Gingrich, a former House speaker, argued he's the native son this time around, after winning his home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday. "I believe," Gingrich asserted, "that, with your help next Tuesday, when we win here and we win in Alabama, we'll be back up again."

But Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, could make inroads with the sizable evangelical population here, just as he did on Super Tuesday. In the seven states where all the candidates were on the ballot Tuesday, 37 percent of evangelicals went for Santorum, followed by 30 percent for Gingrich and 26 percent for Romney.

"If we can finish first and second in Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday," says Santorum, "that will be a big win for us, and hopefully get this race down to two candidates."

Santorum has hinted several times that he'd love for Gingrich to get out of the race. Gingrich has shown no inclination to do so.

But, if all three men stay in the race, that lowers the chances that any one them can get the delegates they need to clinch the nomination, and the chances of a brokered convention go up."

To see the Nancy Cordes report, click on the video in the player above.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.

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