Although Ohio often finds itself in a national news media spotlight as a bellwether in presidential politics, the state last played a pivotal role in selecting a Republican nominee 36 years ago.

This year, history could repeat itself.

There are similarities between the climactic 1976 showdown between President Gerald Ford and former California Gov. Ronald Reagan and this year’s GOP primary, widely viewed as largely a contest between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, despite two other candidates — former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul — still being in the race.

In 1976 and again this year, the Republican presidential battle featured an early favorite with considerable fundraising and organizational advantages trying to hold off a late, hard-charging challenger from the right.

In 1976, Reagan effectively had written off Ohio after the state GOP endorsed appointed incumbent Ford, only to realize later — too late, it turned out — that Reagan was enormously popular in the state.

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