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GOP Candidates Get Ready to Face Off in Alabama, Mississippi

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The long slog that the Republican presidential primary has become will swing through the Deep South on Tuesday when voters in Alabama and Mississippi head to the polls, but a decisive result of any kind seems unlikely.

For front-runner Mitt Romney, who appears all but certain to secure the nomination eventually, a victory in either state would be a massive boost, giving him sorely needed southern success.  For Rick Santorum, a win would bolster his argument that the race is far from over.  And Newt Gingrich may need victories in Alabama and Mississippi more than either of his rivals, but his campaign has refused the notion that both states are must-wins.

A series of primaries over the weekend provided a preview of the race to come.  Santorum romped to a commanding win in Kansas, the weekend’s single biggest prize, but Romney captured the bulk of delegates in Guam, the Northern Marianas and the Virgin Islands, giving the former Massachusetts governor more delegates from the four contests than Santorum.

The race, it seems, has become a battle of math versus momentum.  Even if Santorum manages to put together a winning streak in the upcoming states, Romney, with his superior campaign organization, will likely continue to amass so many delegates that the nomination will ultimately be his.

The math argument is one that the Romney campaign has been making since Super Tuesday.

“The nomination is an impossibility for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich,” a Romney campaign strategist said last Wednesday, claiming that it would take “an act of God” for one of their two rivals to win.

If Romney has math on his side -- to date Romney has secured 454 delegates, more than double the 217 that Santorum has.  The former Pennsylvania senator leads Romney 34 percent to 30 percent in a new national CBS/New York Times poll and he stands to do well in a series of upcoming states, including Alabama and Mississippi, where even Romney aides acknowledge that their candidate may not have that much support, despite the endorsement of the governors of both states and comic Jeff Foxworthy.

“When we have our nominee going out there and trying to sell the American public to vote for him because of mathematics, we are in very, very tough shape,” Santorum said at a campaign stop over the weekend.  “This isn’t about math.  This is about vision.  It’s about leadership.  It’s about taking this country in a direction that is critical because big things are at stake in this country.”

For Santorum to keep making his momentum argument, success in Alabama and Mississippi is imperative.  Recent polls show a close race in both states.

It is entirely possible for Santorum to win both states, but still come out as the loser in terms of delegates.  Both Alabama and Mississippi award delegates proportionally, so Romney is likely to do well enough to gain at least some delegates there.

In addition, caucuses will also be held in Hawaii and American Samoa, where -- as evidenced by his success in Guam, the Northern Marianas and the Virgin Islands -- Romney is considered likely to win.

Gingrich, meanwhile, lags far behind both Romney and Santorum, making the contests in Alabama and Mississippi potentially more important for him than for his rivals.  The former House speaker has only won two states -- South Carolina and Georgia -- and a total of 109 delegates to date.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio