Elections 2012: Romney and Santorum in a Fierce Battle For Key States on Super Tuesday

Mitt Romney can take a big step toward finishing off chief rival Rick Santorum and seizing command of the Republican presidential race on Tuesday as 10 states hold contests with Ohio at ground zero.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall event in Dayton, Ohio, on March 3, 2012. Photo: PBS NewsHour/Flickr

Romney, already the winner of the last five contests, carried momentum into “Super Tuesday.” Polls showed he had erased a double-digit lead to Santorum in Ohio and is now running roughly even with him, reports Reuters.

In Ohio, the new CNN/Time poll shows Romney and Santorum tied at 32 percent each, followed by Gingrich at 14 percent and Ron Paul at 11 percent.

Ohio is the largest battleground and most closely watched prize of the 10 contests on Super Tuesday. But other critical contests are being held. Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, looking for a path to a comeback, leads his home state of Georgia.

According to The Huff Post, the CNN/Time poll in Georgia shows Gingrich leading Romney by a 23-point margin (47 percent to 24 percent) followed by Santorum (15 percent) and Paul (9 percent).

A victory in Ohio and a good showing elsewhere would make Romney the favorite to win the nomination after a grinding, months-long battle in which he has been challenged by a series of conservative alternatives.

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator with a populist streak and a penchant for wearing sweater vests, is sounding like a candidate who realizes he must win Ohio to retain credibility as the main Romney rival. He has been vastly outspent in Ohio by a Romney machine that has pelted him with negative ads.

He sought to raise doubts about Romney in the final hours by focusing on the healthcare plan Romney developed as governor of Massachusetts and which Democrats say was the model for the overhaul adopted by Obama. Republicans, Romney included, want to repeal it.

At Dayton Christian School in Miamisburg on Monday, he urged a capacity crowd to vote for “a guy who grew up in a steel town in western Pennsylvania who no one gave any chance to be standing here in Ohio in March, because he went out and believed in free people” and in “building a stronger economy based on manufacturing,” reports The New York Times.

Romney has largely kept his focus on Obama’s handling of the U.S. economy and foreign policy in the run-up to Super Tuesday and has been joined by his wife, Ann, who came armed with zingers of her own.

“There’s only one answer, and it’s right here. If Mitt wins, America wins. If Mitt loses, America loses,” she said in Zanesville.

“Other people in this race have debated about the economy, they’ve read about the economy, they’ve talked about it in subcommittee meetings, but I’ve actually been in it,” Mr. Romney told workers at a guardrail factory in Canton, where he walked among huge coils of steel. “I understand what it takes to get business successful, and to thrive.”

Romney himself questioned the ability of Santorum, a veteran of Washington politicking, to deal with the economy.

“We need to have a president who understands the economy if we’re going to fix the economy. And my understanding of the economy and jobs did not come by reading about it or debating it in a subcommittee meeting,” Romney said. “My experience in the economy actually came by living in the economy.”

Introducing a new slogan — “more jobs, less debt, smaller government” — Mr. Romney’s factory visits were not just about the Ohio primary. They were part of a broader strategy, hatched at his Boston headquarters, to fight Mr. Santorum for both working-class voters and conservatives on what aides consider to be Mr. Romney’s turf, the economy, rather than on social issues.

Meanwhile, the most surprising finish may be underway in Tennessee, where two automated, recorded voice polls conducted over the weekend both show support for Newt Gingrich climbing rapidly.

The WeAskAmerica poll showed all three frontrunners separated by a single percentage point, 30 percent for Romney and 29 percent each for Santorum and Gingrich.

The PPP poll gave Santorum a slightly larger share of the vote (34 percent), followed by Romney (29 percent) and Gingrich (27 percent).

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