With 66 delegates at stake, Ohio is not the largest target on Super Tuesday, which will see 10 contests held on March 6. But it is the most important. There are no demographic or regional arguments to explain away a loss for Mitt Romney—no home-state advantages, no failures to reach the ballot. Its role in the general election gives Ohio symbolic weight with Republicans, and its Rust Belt-electorate will test the key lingering questions of the GOP primary: Can Rick Santorum build a coalition to defeat Romney outright in a major primary state, and is Romney really ready for a general-election fight with Barack Obama?
“Not only is Ohio demographically representative of the country at large, reflecting virtually every important group except Latinos,” writes Ohio State political science professor Paul Beck, “it also combines a tradition of moderate Republicanism and recent Tea Party support.”
Ohio Republicans populate two key areas: big-city suburbs, especially outside Cincinnati, and rural hamlets scattered across the southern stretch of the state. Romney won Michigan on the strength of his performance in Oakland County, outside Detroit, while Santorum failed to run up high enough margins of victory in conservative rural areas. In terms of culture and demographics, Ohio is similar, and the turnout of the state’s Evangelical social conservatives could be decisive.
A week out, polling showed Santorum pulling it off: he leads Romney by high single-digits or low double-digits, and his supporters say they’re more settled on their vote than Romney’s. The time frame for a turnaround is short. Romney overcame similar deficits in Michigan, but he had several weeks to do it. One potential upside for Romney is his money advantage, which enabled him to pour resources into Ohio while Santorum was stretching to keep Romney from doubling or tripling his investment in Michigan.