For Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, the Deep South primaries in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday will be a race for conservative primacy in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. Unless one of them decisively puts the other away, however, Mitt Romney could be the big winner no matter where he finishes.

While Romney, the establishment front-runner, is counting on a growing sense of inevitability that he will be the nominee, Alabama and Mississippi are two of the last, best chances for Santorum and Gingrich to make their case against each other.

In temperament and tone, Ging­rich has an easier sell in the South: He can “talk Southern” in a way that Santorum can’t. But his personal baggage — a history of marital infidelity and two failed marriages — could be a significant stumbling block among the conservative, family-values voters who make up a large part of the two states’ electorates.

This is particularly true when that record is held up against Santorum’s personal story as a devoted husband and father of seven.

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