ALABAMA, MISSISSIPPI (CBS) -- In a region where Georgian Newt Gingrich staked his presidential hopes, it's a two-for-two night for surging Rick Santorum.
With 80 percent of the precincts reporting, Santorum led Newt Gingrich in Alabama with 35 percent support to Gingrich's 30 percent support. Mitt Romney followed with 28 percent support.
Meanwhile, in Mississippi, with 96 percent of votes in, Santorum led with 33 percent support, while Gingrich followed him with 31 percent. Romney came in third with thirty percent.
According to exit polls out of Alabama, Santorum did particularly well among very conservative voters and women. He also did well among those who thought it was most important that a candidate have a strong moral character or that he be a true conservative, and those who thought it was very or somewhat important that they share a candidate's religious beliefs.
"We did it again," Santorum exclaimed Tuesday night, in remarks to supporters after the polls closed. "This is a grassroots campaign for president... This campaign is about ordinary folks doing extraordinary things - sort of like America."
The candidate also took a swipe at Romney for allegedly considering himself the "inevitable" GOP nominee.
"For someone who thinks this race is inevitable he spent a whole lot of money against me," Santorum said, before jabbing "all the establishment" for being "on the other side of this race."
Overall in Alabama, 80 percent of primary voters identified as born-again or evangelical Christians. Seventy-five percent of primary voters said they thought it mattered either a great deal or somewhat that a candidate share their religious beliefs. Newt Gingrich, who finished a close second in the contest, won among men, according to exit polls.
In both Mississippi and Alabama, Romney is dogged by the notion that he is insufficiently conservative: More than half of Alabama primary voters and Mississippi voters alike say Romney's issue positions are not conservative enough. In Mississippi, 49 percent of voters say Santorum's positions on the issues are about right, while 56 percent say the same of Gingrich. In Alabama, more than 50 percent of voters say both Gingrich and Santorum's positions on the issues are "about right."
Polling out of Alabama and Mississippi ahead of Tuesday's contest showed close contests between Romney, Santorum and Gingrich. A victory in the conservative South would help Romney demonstrate he has the ability to rally his base, although he remains far from the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination. A win for Gingrich could help him demonstrate his strength in the region.
For Santorum, the projected win in Alabama could help the former Pennsylvania Senator prove he is the authentic conservative and alternative to Romney.