Pundits: It's a Two-Man Race Ala., Miss. results give Santorum a clear shot at Romney By Rob Quinn, Newser Staff Posted Mar 14, 2012 3:52 AM CDT Updated Mar 14, 2012 7:48 AM CDT 46 comments Comments Santorum and Romney walk out for the GOP debate in South Carolina in January. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (Newser) – Only a few percentage points separated the top three candidates in Alabama and Mississippi's GOP primaries, but the results left Rick Santorum looking like a big winner, and Newt Gingrich looking like a goner, say pundits, who predict tough times ahead for Mitt Romney. Santorum's wins in Gingrich's "political back yard" will "symbolically—if not literally—end the former speaker’s hopes in the race," writes Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post. The wins give Santorum "what he always wanted: a clear shot at Romney." Romney has blown yet another chance to nail down the nomination, writes Ed Kilgore at the New Republic. Santorum, now the clear conservative alternative to Romney, has a choice in the days ahead: "To double down on his culture-war-heavy, ideological true-believer message or begin trying to convince elites he can actually beat Obama." Gingrich has lost his "only chance to rejuvenate his campaign," decides Brian Montopoli at CBS. The conservative movement will now rally behind Santorum, he predicts, causing "a long, mudslinging march to the nomination that will keep the eventual nominee from focusing on the general election." The double loss looks all the worse for Romney because he pushed the narrative that the race was almost wrapped up, and that Santorum's campaign was at a "desperate end," observes Maggie Haberman at Politico. "While Romney remains 'likely,' it is the word 'inevitable' his backers are going to have a harder time selling," she writes. "Santorum earned the right to be treated as a serious contender."