A sign guides voters to the polling place at the Mid County Church of Christ… (Alana Semuels / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Troy, Ohio — This should be Rick Santorum country. The conservative farmland of Ohio, one of 10 states to cast votes on Super Tuesday, is dotted with churches and Victorian homes with green John Boehner signs in the lawns. Santorum visited a diner here Saturday with Ohio Atty. Gen. Mike DeWine, to big crowds interested in his values-heavy message.
But voters in this city, which sits in John Boehner's congressional district, seemed divided at the polls, between those who had decided, grudgingly, to accept Mitt Romney, and those who just couldn't do it.
"It’s one of those elections when you’re not too crazy about anybody," said Joan Grant, a retired teacher in Troy. She voted for Romney, because she said she wanted to see a Republican in the White House.
As voters drove across brown fields and pulled into their local polling place, a brick church where red “Vote Here” signs had been nearly demolished by the wind and cold, many said they had just decided to focus on who could win the general election, where Ohio will be a key swing state.
“He’ll beat Obama,” said Nelson Swinehart, a retiree who also said he supported Romney, although he had considered voting for Santorum.
Pundits say Romney has the advantage in Ohio because of his campaign organization and because of the money he has spent running ads in the state’s many media markets. Ohio, like Florida, can be swayed more by advertising than smaller states where retail politics are key. Ohio airwaves have been flooded in recent days with ads paid for by Romney and by the "super PAC" that supports him, Restore our Future. Many of the Restore our Future ads have attacked Santorum as unelectable.
Romney “has been pounding the hell out of Santorum with the super PACs, plus he has the Republican establishment,” said William C. Binning, professor and chair emeritus of the department of political science at Youngstown State University. “He’s destroying one opponent at a time with these negative ads.”
Negative super PAC ads focused on Newt Gingrich and his past helped Romney pull off a strong victory in Florida after Gingrich’s startling victory in South Carolina.
Robin Conrad, 62, said she decided to support Romney after seeing an ad that talked about how, as head of Bain Capital, he decided to fly employees to New York to help locate the missing daughter of a colleague.
“That helped me decide,” she said. Ads for Romney continued to run in Ohio on election day as voters headed to the polls.
But despite the flood of Romney ads in media markets across the state, some voters say they couldn’t bring themselves to support the front-runner, highlighting doubts that have plagued Romney throughout the campaign, and will likely to continue to dog him should he become the party’s nominee.
“I just don’t trust Romney,” said Bryan Scott, 31, a Troy resident who said he had some doubts about whether Santorum could win in a general election. But he still voted for Santorum, because he said Romney seemed "too perfect."
“I just don’t think Romney can relate to real people,” said Sharon Sanders, a Troy resident. “He tries to, by wearing jeans, but it doesn’t work.”