Newt Gingrich might say that Alabama and Mississippi aren’t must-wins for him, that he’ll go all the way to Tampa no matter what, but his actions tell a different story. He canceled a Monday fundraiser to continue to campaign in the two states. He has five events scheduled in the region today alone. The former Speaker of the House knows that he needs to win at least one if not both of the Southern states to justify the continuance of his campaign.

Trouble is, even if he wins both Alabama and Mississippi, he still won’t have notched a win to dispel the notion that he’s a regional candidate. Rhetoric like this won’t help with that, either:

“I have had grits before,” he told a crowd at a Mobile café on Saturday morning, making a not-so-subtle knock on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s joking admission to an audience that he was starting to like the favorite Southern food.

The former House speaker contended that was evidence of a larger problem facing his rival: “I figure if you don’t understand grits, there’s a pretty high likelihood that you don’t understand the rest of the South, either.” …

“We have momentum, but we haven’t won,” he told a crowd at his second café stop of the day – Mama Lou’s in Robertsdale. “We still have to go out and finish the sale, we have to make sure, particularly in a county like this that has such a huge Republican vote, we need to make sure that everybody understands the opportunity.”

So Newt Gingrich knows grits … Does he know New England crab cakes or Pacific Northwest salmon? So Mitt Romney doesn’t understand the culture of the South … The free market works in the South much as it works anywhere else.

It’s natural that Gingrich would want to push back against any of Mitt Romney’s faintly charming remarks about becoming an “unofficial Southerner.” Gingrich considers himself an official Southerner — he was born in Pennsylvania, but he graduated high school in Georgia, for goodness’ sake! — and he doesn’t want to lose on his home turf any more than Mitt Romney wanted to lose Massachusetts or Vermont on Super Tuesday. But if Romney’s tendency to win only the states he’s expected to win makes him a weak frontrunner, Gingrich’s inability to compete anywhere but the South makes him a very weak third-runner. It’s hard to see why Gingrich is holding on.