Romney takes Ohio in close race with Santorum

March 7, 2012 10:25 am
  • Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and his wife, Ann, greet supporters as they arrive at their Super Tuesday primary night rally in Boston.
    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and his wife, Ann, greet supporters as they arrive at their Super Tuesday primary night rally in Boston.
  • Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks to supporters at an election night party at Steubenville High School in Steubenville, Ohio.
    Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks to supporters at an election night party at Steubenville High School in Steubenville, Ohio.
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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- Seizing the lion's share of the delegates at stake and capturing five states including the closely watched prize of Ohio, Mitt Romney reasserted a tenuous claim to front-runner status in the race for the Republican nomination.

But the agonizingly close Ohio results cast a shadow across any air of inevitability that the former governor might have hoped to project on Super Tuesday. In the most hard fought battle in the continent-wide competition, Mr. Romney needed big spending edge and a long night of counting to eke out a slender popular vote win in the Buckeye State. The evening-long, agonizingly close tabulation was a replay on a larger scale of the Iowa election night in which the same candidates see-sawed through the evening and into another Wednesday morning.

As in Michigan the week before, Mr. Santorum saw a substantial polling lead melt away in the closing days in the face of Mr. Romney's economic message and substantial spending advantage. Earlier in the day, some close aides seemed resigned to another loss here, but he clung to a narrow lead throughout the early counting, with Mr. Romney finally pulling ahead shortly before midnight.

Santorum aides complained that they were outspent 12 to 1 here. That may have been an exaggeration. But there was no question that Mr. Romney's spending clout was crucial in allowing him to cut into the consensus double-digit lead that Mr. Santorum held in polling here little more than a week ago.

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In Georgia, Harrisburg native Newt Gingrich leveraged his transplanted roots to an easy victory. Mr. Santorum seemed likely to fall just below the 20 percent threshold needed to avoid being completely shut of delegates there.

Mr. Santorum could console himself with victories in Tennessee, North Dakota and Oklahoma, with Alaska results still out. Citing those wins, Mr. Santorum's aides said he had firmly seized the mantle of the conservative alternative to Mr. Romney.

But Mr. Romney effectively started the biggest day of the nomination season with a cache of delegates already in the bank. None of his rivals put up a serious challenge in Massachusetts, where he was governor, nor in close neighbor Vermont. And the former governor turned his organizational advantage, and his rivals' lapses, into delegates in Virginia and here in Ohio. Later in the evening he swept up in Idaho.

Staff writer Timothy McNulty contributed. Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com.
First Published 2012-03-06 23:58:24

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