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Super Tuesday: Romney, Santorum neck-and-neck in Ohio primary

March 06, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gives a thumbs-up as he walks out of a production studio where he addressed the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Hilliard, Ohio.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gives a thumbs-up as he… (Michael Reynolds / European…)

The marquee Super Tuesday battle in Ohio is heading for a photo finish, with Mitt Romney a few thousand votes ahead of Rick Santorum with about 85% of precincts reporting.

It’s the closest race of the 2012 Republican nomination fight since the very first contest -- in Iowa on Jan. 3. Then, Romney was initially declared the winner by just eight votes. A revised tally weeks later put Santorum ahead by a few dozen votes.

The two men each claimed their share of successes on Super Tuesday. Romney won in Virginia, Vermont and Massachusetts, while Santorum claimed victory in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota. Newt Gingrich won Georgia.

Voters also were choosing a GOP presidential candidate in Idaho and Alaska.

But even though nine other states were holding caucuses or primaries, both candidates focused their energies in the Buckeye State in the final days. Some polls had shown Santorum ahead of Romney by double digits as recently as mid-February, before Romney began to close the gap. Final public surveys had it a dead heat, just as it appears tonight. Each candidate has been in the lead at some point tonight.

Romney’s strength is in and around the state’s major population centers of Cleveland and Cincinnati, while Santorum led in rural counties.

A total of 66 delegates is at stake in the Ohio primary, most of which will be based on the results in individual congressional districts. Fifteen will be awarded on a proportional basis according to the statewide total, with only Romney and Santorum surpassing the threshold needed to claim them.

In a sign of his organizational handicap, Santorum did not file delegate slates in three of the state’s congressional districts, meaning he is ineligible to win a total of nine delegates.

On paper, Ohio should have represented Santorum’s best chance for victory tonight. Though social issues and other verbal gaffes have drawn the most attention from the national press, his stump speech was tailored to the kind of working-class voters prevalent in the state.

Romney, as in other key states thus far in the GOP nominating race, was boosted by a sizable financial advantage. His own campaign and a “super PAC” run by former aids had spent a combined $4 million on television advertising, compared with about $900,000 from Santorum and another super PAC supporting his candidacy.

In 2008, Ohio’s primary came well after the GOP nomination had been locked down by John McCain. The Arizona senator easily defeated Mike Huckabee, while most of the focus was on a much-needed victory by Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the Democratic primary.

Ohio is certain to be just as hotly contested in the general election. An NBC-Marist poll released Sunday showed Obama with a double-digit advantage over each of his potential GOP foes, one that is certain to narrow as the general election campaign heats up.

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