Commentators and his own campaign had previously pegged Tuesday's primaries in Alabama and Mississippi as fertile ground for Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. However, The Los Angeles Times is now reporting from the trail that the former Pennsylvania senator is easing back his expectations for the Deep South primaries:

"Stopping to shake hands with voters and grab a quick lunch of barbecued pork ribs,Rick Santorum said he did not need to win Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi, downplaying his chances against Mitt Romney’s front-runner status and Newt Gingrich’s home field advantage.

'We just have to continue to do well,' he told reporters after lunch. 'We’re going into Newt’s backyard and obviously Gov. Romney’s coming off a big Super Tuesday. We’ve got to come in here and do well, and I think from all the polls we’re doing very well.'

[...]

"The former Pennsylvania senator said he expects to do well in upcoming states, mentioning Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas.' This map is looking better and better,' he said, 'We feel like the map is going to start turning in our direction.'

He encouraged voters to pay no attention to the pundits and their delegate charts, which show he now trails Romney by more than 200 delegates in the race to the 1,144 needed to win. 'I’d just say, folks, quit listening to these political mathematicians,' he said. 'If we get what I hope, which is eventually a race that comes down to two people, we’ll beat him.'”

In the latest PPP poll of Mississippi voters Santorum is behind Gingrich by 6, and Romney by 4, with a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percent. In Alabama he is behind Romney by 2, and Gingrich by only one point, with +/-  4 percent margin.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Santorum made it clear to reporters following a meeting with pro-drilling groups in Biloxi, Mississippi, that even if he does not win either Alabama or Mississippi in Tuesday’s voting,  he sees no reason to drop out of the race. “If this race continues on its current path,’’ Mr. Santorum said, “it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to get the majority of the delegates before the convention.’’

Santorum's comments about the convention come as reports broke this morning that his campaign strategists see a fight in Tampa at the end of August as part of their plan to secure the nomination.

One last thing…
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