03/14/2012 04:26 pm ET Updated May 14, 2012

No Southern Win for Mitt, But Huge Night for Santorum

It almost sounds like repeat lyrics of a Top 40 song that Mitt Romney hates.

Romney has momentum -- a chance to finally beat expectations only to fall short in the end -- and never closes the deal.

Sound familiar?

If Romney had only pulled off Alabama or Mississippi, it would be a different narrative today. It would go like this: Organization matters, the Republican primary is over and Romney can start this general election battle with President Obama.

Instead Rick Santorum is the Republican man of the hour. Already campaigning in Louisiana, look at what Santorum told supporters.

"We will win this nomination before the GOP convention in Tampa." Santorum said.

Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom tried to put the best light on Tuesday's results.

"Our goal was to come in, take a third of the delegates. We will do that," he told CNN.

In fairness to Romney, if there was one of the top three candidates that did not have home field advantage, it was him. Romney celebrated his 65th birthday Monday, but that would amount to his only good news of the week.

For the former Massachusetts governor, what is becoming increasingly clear is that Romney takes one step forward and two steps backward. Right now Romney is still the delegate leader by far, but he is looking over his shoulder at Santorum gaining on him. The White House has ordered more popcorn for the show.

Great night for Santorum, but bad for the party. Republicans cannot yet focus on the ultimate goal -- and that is the general election battle with President Obama.

It's worth pointing out what Romney was up against.

At least Romney was competitive, coming in a close third in both states, and we must consider he was not in popular territory for him: a high percentage of evangelical voters in Alabama and Mississippi, his positions on social issues that don't fly in the South, and his wealth. Both states have a lot of low-income voters.

Yes, Romney is benefiting from a split in the conservative vote, and it had to be music to his ears that Newt Gingrich gave no indication of dropping out of the race.

Perhaps Romney may want to re-think his strategy of not waiting to lock down the GOP presidential nomination before focusing his campaign chiefly on President Obama. The former Massachusetts governor has been doing his best to pretend Santorum and his fellow rivals Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul hardly exist. (Unless he's asked about them.) Romney may want to immediately rethink that plan.

There are many states that are solidly in the GOP column in November, like Mississippi and Alabama. Perhaps they will be remembered as the states that started a wave towards Santorum, or as the states that served as wake-up calls to Romney.

At the end of the day Romney's Southern demeanor didn't work, by "learning to say 'y'all'" and eating "cheesy grits." One could argue that is exactly what his problem is.

Organization matters, but races come down to enthusiasm, and that is something that thus far has escaped Mr. Romney.

According to Politico:

The GOP presidential contest moves next to Puerto Rico and Illinois, a delegate-rich state where Romney and his super PAC have already poured millions of dollars into TV and radio advertising. A Chicago Tribune poll this week found Romney leading Santorum in the state by just 4 percentage points.