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A Southern victory for Mitt Romney? Tuesday could be the charm. (+video)

With Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum splitting the conservative vote, polls put Mitt Romney right in the thick of it in both Alabama and Mississippi.

By Staff Writer / March 12, 2012

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greets Alabama residents at a campaign event at The Whistle Stop Café in Mobile, Ala., Monday.

Keith Necaise/Reuters

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Mitt Romney celebrated his 65th birthday on Monday – and suggested to supporters in Alabama that a primary victory in the South would be the perfect birthday present.

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“Thanks so much for giving me this birthday present. Hopefully, I can unwrap it tomorrow,” he told a crowd at the Whistle Stop restaurant in Mobile, Ala.

If Mr. Romney does score a victory on Tuesday in either Alabama or Mississippi, it will be a first for the former Massachusetts governor. Though he won in Florida in January, that state isn't considered a part of the cultural and political South (and he lost the more conservative Florida panhandle badly).

Despite Romney's struggles in that region, it's just possible he could get the birthday gift he's hoping for on Tuesday.

Right now, polls show him virtually tied with both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in Alabama. (The most recent poll from Public Policy Polling actually has Romney leading with 31 percent, compared with 30 percent for Mr. Gingrich and 29 percent for Mr. Santorum – but the differences are within the poll's margin of error.)

In Mississippi, polls are also showing a very close race. The latest PPP poll has Gingrich slightly ahead of Romney and Santorum (33 percent to 31 percent and 27 percent, respectively), and a Rasmussen poll conducted several days ago had Romney leading by 8 points.

A win in either state would be big for Romney, not so much because of the delegates at stake (between them, they have 90 delegates), but because of the symbolic victory of finally making an inroad into the South.

Romney himself poked fun at his fish-out-of-water character in Southern states – including total lack of familiarity with either the cuisine or activities like hunting. He told Alabama Republicans that, "I'm looking forward to going out and hunting with you sometime and you can actually show me which end of the rifle to point." He later joked that, "last night I was in Mississippi, by the way, and I had catfish for the second time. It was delicious, just like first time."

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