Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney eked out a win in Ohio, a crucial state not only for Republicans in November but also for Romney as he tries to clinch the nomination while minimizing the perception that he is a weak candidate who does not inspire or turnout Republicans who want so desperately to defeat President Barack Obama. News organizations, such as CNN, project that Romney will win the state by 1 to 2 percentage points over Santorum.
Romney had been trailing all night until the returns came in from Ohio’s major counties. Romney was able to spend time and resources in Ohio because neither Rick Santorum nor Newt Gingrich qualified for the Virginia ballot, and Romney did not have to campaign in Virginia. He was also helped tremendously by the endorsement of Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. In national elections, Ohio leans establishment, and Portman — and his home county of Hamilton — helped deliver for Romney. Romney also did best among those who viewed him as a businessman best able to fix the economy in addition to those whose top priority was defeating Obama in the fall.
Santorum, who did not file a full slate of delegates in Ohio, was at an organizational disadvantage, but his blue collar roots and his economic message, which was tailored for America’s rust belt, resonated in Ohio.
Santorum led in Ohio by double digits last week, but Romney’s efforts across all corners of the state helped him close the gap as election day approached.
Ohio highlighted Romney’s weakness with blue collar voters that he will desperately need in the fall if he is to get the nomination against Obama. Ohio also revealed the disorganization of the Republican field. For instance, had Santorum been on the ballot in Virginia, he may have won Ohio as Romney would have had to spend resources campaigning in Virginia. Further, Santorum’s not being eligible for up to 18 delegates gave Romney an insurance policy going into the election day as there were multiple scenarios in which Romney could have lost the popular vote in Ohio and plausibly claimed victory, based on the number of delegates he would have garnered.
Further, Ohio represented the frustration with Obama among those in working class America, especially blue collar whites in the Midwest and Appalachia. But it is uncertain whether they will enthusiastically support Romney in November, if he becomes the nominee, unless he demonstrates himself to be a better candidate.
Based on exit polling, which Santorum over-performed slightly, Romney’s margin of victory came from voters who made their decision recently and his strengths in the Cincinnati (Hamilton County) and Cleveland areas.
50 percent of voters who decided “in the last few days” voted for Romney while 42 percent of those who decided in the “last week” voted for Santorum.
In the Cleveland area, Romney won 45 percent to Santorum’s 29 percent. In the Cincinnati/Southern Ohio area, Romney won 43 percent to Santorum’s 31 percent.
Romney also won men, women and seniors across the board.
Among Republican primary voters, 53 percent felt Romney was the most likely candidate to defeat Obama to 23 percent for Santorum.
Among the 43 percent of voters who thought that defeating Obama was the most important factor, 56 percent voted for Romney while 27 percent voted for Santorum.
Those who said that electing a “true conservative” and someone with “strong moral character” were the most important went for Santorum 49 percent and 59 percent to Romney’s 18 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
Among the 55 percent of the voters who said the economy was most important to them, 45 percent voted for Romney. Among the 28 percent of voters who felt the budget deficit was the most important issue, 42 percent voted for Romney.
Santorum did well among cultural conservatives, but there just were not enough of them to put him over the top. Only 10 percent of the electorate felt abortion was the top priority, and 63 percent of those voters went to Santorum.
While voters who felt religious beliefs mattered a great deal went for Santorum over Romney, 49 percent to 24 percent (those who self-described themselves as “born again” voted for Santorum over Romney, 45 percent to 35 percent), Romney won the Protestant vote over Santorum, 43 percent to 36 percent. Romney also won the Catholic vote over Santorum, who is Catholic, 40 percent to 31 percent.
Santorum won voters who made less than $50,000 a year while Romney won those who made more than $100,000. Romney won college graduates, which made up 46 percent of the vote, while Santorum barely won those who did not have a college degree, which made up 54 percent of the vote.