WASHINGTON -- Rick Santorum won the Alabama primary Tuesday night and led Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney in a close race in Mississippi, deeply conservative Southern crossroads in the struggle for the Republican presidential nomination. Just before 8 p.m. Pacific Time Tuesday, CNN projected that Santorum won Mississippi.
"We're on our way to victory tonight; we're on our way to victory in this election," exulted Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who has long sought to emerge as the sole more-conservative rival to Romney.
Romney, the faraway front-runner in the delegate chase, bristled in the hours before the votes were counted, saying Santorum was "at the desperate end of his campaign."
But it was Gingrich with the most to lose as he struggled for political survival in a part of the country he hoped would fuel one more comeback in the unpredictable race to pick an opponent to President Barack Obama.
There were 107 Republican National Convention delegates at stake on Tuesday, 47 in Alabama, 37 in Mississippi, 17 in Hawaii caucuses and six more in caucuses in American Samoa.
In Alabama, with 54 percent of the precincts counted, Santorum was pulling 35 percent of the vote, Gingrich had 30 percent and Romney 28 percent.
Returns from 79 percent of Mississippi's precincts showed Santorum with 33 percent, Gingrich 32 percent and Romney 30.