Mitt Romney hoped to seal his status as the Republican presidential front-runner with a thus-far-elusive victory in the Deep South, a region that has been slow to embrace the former Massachusetts governor.
A pair of closely fought primaries Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi also could render a possible final verdict on Newt Gingrich's Southern-focused candidacy and give Rick Santorum the two-man race he's sought against Romney.
Santorum picked up a vote from Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who had not publicly endorsed the former Pennsylvania senator. Bentley's spokesman said the governor traveled to his hometown of Tuscaloosa to vote for Santorum, whom he considers "the most conservative candidate in the Republican presidential race."
In Birmingham, Ala., Gingrich told reporters he felt "pretty good" about his chances Tuesday night.
With polls showing an unexpectedly tight race in the conservative bellwether states, Romney stopped in Alabama on Monday -- a clear indication he was eyeing a potential win there.