Republicans Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney battled on Monday for conservative support in Mississippi and Alabama ahead of presidential primaries that polls showed have turned into tense three-way ties.

The stakes are high for all of the contenders in Tuesday’s Deep South contests, with Gingrich fighting to keep his struggling campaign alive and Santorum hoping for a knockout blow that would consolidate conservative opposition to front-runner Mitt Romney.

The southern primaries, originally seen as a fight between conservatives Romney and Santorum, gained a new edge with an unexpected strong showing by Romney in polls.

For Romney, a win in either state would be a landmark breakthrough that would signal his ability to capture conservative support in the party’s Deep South strongholds and put him on a path to the nomination.

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