Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum won the Mississippi primary, taking both Deep South states up for grabs on Tuesday, US networks projected.
With 96 per cent of the votes counted, Santorum led with 33 per cent of the vote in Mississippi. Newt Gingrich was second with 31 per cent, followed closely by Mitt Romney at 30 per cent.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, earlier won the Republican primary in Alabama with 35 per cent of the vote. Gingrich had 30 per cent and Romney 28 per cent.
Gingrich has been hoping to shore up his flagging campaign with a win in the deep South by drawing on his southern ties, and the results if confirmed could increase the pressure on him to withdraw from the race.
Although Gingrich and Santorum have urged each other to get out of the race, Gingrich indicated in a radio interview on Tuesday that he and the former Pennsylvania senator eventually could form a united front against Romney.
Romney has opened a big lead in delegates in the Republican race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama in the November 6 election, but he has been unable to capture the hearts of conservatives who distrust him for some of the moderate stances he took as governor of liberal Massachusetts.
Romney, however, rejected the notion his inability to put away his conservative rivals would mean none of the candidates would have the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the convention in August.
He said Santorum was reaching the "desperate end of his campaign" and faced a steep climb to catch up in the race for delegates.
Romney currently has about 454 delegates; Santorum 217 and Gingrich 107.
Fifty delegates are at stake in Alabama and 40 in Mississippi. There also will be caucuses in Hawaii, where 17 delegates are at stake. In each of the states, candidates are awarded delegates proportionally based on their vote totals.
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|William T. Hathaway|