This is how the two hundred or so conservatives who met in Houston last week spun the results of the Deep South primaries in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday. Santorum won Alabama comfortably with 35% to 29% each for Gingrich and Romney. But if you look closely at the numbers, they are not good for Santorum. The county-by-county map in Alabama strikingly resembles Ohio, where Santorum won the rural areas but Romney won the urban areas. Romney carried only four counties in Alabama, but they were biggies: Jefferson (Birmingham), Montgomery (Montgomery), Mobile (Mobile), and the major resort area of Gulf Shores (Baldwin County), the heart of the so-called Redneck Riviera. The same was true in Ohio: Romney carried the Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati metro areas. Santorum carried the rural areas. He isn’t doing well in the urban areas. That is a pattern he is going to have to break if he is going to win the GOP nomination. I’m sure Romney is disappointed that he didn’t win AL or MS, but a “major defeat” it wasn’t. Today’s Houston Chronicle carried a statement by Richard Viguerie, one of the key figures in the conservative movement, touting Santorum’s achievements in the South:

Make no mistake about it — Rick Santorum’s wins in Mississippi and Alabama were a major defeat for the Republican establishment. In Mississippi, Mitt Romney had the political machine of former Governor Haley Barbour behind him, and in Alabama, he had establishment favorite former Governor Bob Riley’s support, and he still came in third in both states. Rick Santorum’s victories in Alabama and Mississippi have once again confounded the establishment pundits. The conservative movement is uniting behind Rick’s candidacy — and when conservatives are united behind one candidate, there is nothing inevitable about a Romney nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Unless Gingrich gets out of the race, conservatives will not be united behind one candidate. and unless Santorum can start winning in urban areas, he will not be the GOP nominee in Tampa. His next test will come in the Illinois primary on March 20, where most of the votes are in the Chicago metro area.