Romney, Santorum duel for Ohio in national focus

DAN SEWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Ohio loomed large Tuesday in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, with Mitt Romney looking for a decisive victory in the most closely watched Super Tuesday showdown.

Lying between Romney's native Michigan and former Sen. Rick Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania, Ohio offered the former Massachusetts governor a chance to claim another big general election swing state. Santorum, meanwhile, sought to recapture momentum after late polls indicated the state was a toss-up.

Polls have tracked voter volatility among Ohio Republicans. Pizza magnate Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Santorum have all leapfrogged past Romney only to fall back in the last six months. Late polls also indicated that significant numbers of likely Ohio primary voters said they might change their minds once they were casting their ballots.

The state's geographic and economic diversity -- cities, small towns, farmland and swaths of suburbs, along with Rust Belt manufacturing, agriculture, medical and high-tech businesses -- made it a key test for the Republican contenders. No Republican nominee has reached the White House without carrying Ohio. President Barack Obama carried the state in 2008, after it delivered George W. Bush's clinching re-election margin in 2004.

Both candidates focused on Ohio in the last days before Tuesday's voting in 10 states. They crisscrossed the state and blitzed airwaves with ads. Santorum planned to watch returns in Steubenville, in eastern Ohio.

Gingrich made a weekend swing through Ohio, hoping to pick up some of the state's 63 delegates at stake. Even if Santorum wins the state, he faces at least 18 delegates on the table because his campaign didn't get enough delegate candidates on all ballots.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul concentrated on states holding GOP caucuses Tuesday, although Ohio backers said he had pockets of support across the state. It's also relatively easy to cross over in Ohio's primaries, so Paul supporters were wooing Democrats and independents, especially college-age ones.

Ohio has 66 Republican delegates total, including three party "super delegates" who aren't bound by the primary results.

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