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Santorum's Southern primary wins indicate GOP race will be fight to the finish

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March 12, 2012: Rick Santorum visits with supporters during a rally in Montgomery, Ala. (AP)

The Yankees came South! 

Pennsylvania’s former senator Rick Santorum took a big gamble by going into the heart of Dixie to compete in Alabama and Mississippi this week. He aimed to convince voters that he's the "real conservative" over former House Speaker and "real Southerner" Newt Gingrich

The risk paid off big time for Santorum. He won both states and most of the delegates.

Former Massachusetts Gov.Mitt Romney said the Southern primaries were "away games," and that was an understatement. 

Eating grits and having blue collar comedy star Jeff Foxworthy by his side didn't get "Mr Inevitable" across the finish line first, or even second. 

Romney joked that he wanted to go hunting with Foxworthy, but he would need help knowing which end of the gun to point. 

Well, Santorum and Gingrich are aiming one right at his goal of getting to Tampa with 1,144 delegates intact. Unless something happens to change the dynamic for Romney very quickly, he is going to start to sink faster than he did with his run four years ago. 

It's now clear, it's a fight all the way, and the only candidate who is becoming totally irrelevant is Texas Congressman Ron Paul. 

Romney fights by the Marquis of Queensberry rules, and his jab is pretty good. His two opponents are street fighters and the only rules they fight by is win at any cost. 

Even though the ultimate game is winning delegates, winning the primaries and caucuses go a long way in helping to energize the base and convincing the party you can lead it to victory in November.

Romney in 2008 didn’t win a Southern state, and this cycle he lost badly in South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama. He won Florida by out-spending his opponents many times over, but money alone isn't going to do it. 

The base of this party is now the South -- something Romney ought to keep in mind. 

The Romney team will try to spin Tuesday's losses by arguing that they won delegates and still lead in total counts. But the results clearly show Santorum has raised his playing level to "A" ball. 

The guy who started dead last with nothing but grit and determination is gaining fast, and has morphed into a real contender. 

Santorum still doesn't have a "real" campaign. His campaign is run by his long time pals and the people who believed in him when he started with nothing. However, his strategy is working. 

The danger lies in the fact that even though Romney still might win the nomination, he will emerge bloody and wounded. 

In the end, the president is the real opponent and some of this aggressiveness needs to be aimed at him. With the president's falling poll numbers, and the rising gas prices, this thing is winnable in the fall.

It's time for these four Musketeers to sit down and have a mid-contest direction change. We haven't picked half the delegates yet and there is no inevitable winner. 

Gingrich led for three weeks in both states and lost at the finish line. Romney was telling everyone in the last few weeks only he could win and everyone else should get out of the race so he could win the election against President Obama. Santorum just went out and did what he needed to do to win.

Well, gentlemen, we have a real contest! 

So let's press on and remember what they tell boxers at the start of match: "Protect yourselves at all times."

Edward J. Rollins is a Fox News contributor. He is a former assistant to President Reagan and he managed his re-election campaign. He is a senior presidential fellow at Hofstra University and a member of the Political Consultants Hall of Fame.

Edward J. Rollins is a Fox News contributor. He is a former assistant to President Reagan and he managed his reelection campaign. He is a senior presidential fellow at Hofstra University and a member of the Political Consultants Hall of Fame.