Ohio Is Key Test For GOP Hopefuls

Republican presidential candidate, former US Senator Rick Santorum speaks to the Lake County Republican Party during their Lincoln Day dinner in Willoughby, Ohio on Friday. i i

hide captionRepublican presidential candidate, former US Senator Rick Santorum speaks to the Lake County Republican Party during their Lincoln Day dinner in Willoughby, Ohio on Friday.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate, former US Senator Rick Santorum speaks to the Lake County Republican Party during their Lincoln Day dinner in Willoughby, Ohio on Friday.

Republican presidential candidate, former US Senator Rick Santorum speaks to the Lake County Republican Party during their Lincoln Day dinner in Willoughby, Ohio on Friday.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Ohio is one of 10 states holding contests to pick their party's presidential nominee on Super Tuesday, but it has been the main focus of attention for GOP candidates because it will be a major battleground state in the general election this November.

The conventional wisdom has been that whoever takes Ohio in the general election goes on to win the White House, which gives Tuesday's contest a lot of potential momentum for the eventual winner.

In Ohio, NPR's Tamara Keith has been checking the mood of voters like Matt Greene. He's still undecided, though he says he'll ultimately vote for one of the front-runners: Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney.

"Nobody's coming forth with everything that I'd like to hear," Greene says. "Santorum and Romney ... they both tend to put their foot in their mouth too often."

The two other major Republican candidates still in the race are Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

Greene says Santorum's views on faith and social issues appeal to him. But he's also concerned about the economy and feels the government should be run more like a business, which would favor Romney.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall meeting at Capital University in Bexley, Ohio on Wednesday. i i

hide captionRepublican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall meeting at Capital University in Bexley, Ohio on Wednesday.

Gerald Herbert/AP
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall meeting at Capital University in Bexley, Ohio on Wednesday.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall meeting at Capital University in Bexley, Ohio on Wednesday.

Gerald Herbert/AP

"I believe in a lot of the things that Romney says," he says. "I just don't know if he understands what the average man and woman needs."

One Ohio Republican that Romney has not won over is Attorney General Mike DeWine. Although he endorsed Romney at one point, DeWine switched his support to Santorum last month.

DeWine tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Jacki Lyden that despite Romney's recent victories in Washington state, Arizona and Michigan, he does not regret his decision.

"There's a reason we have all of these caucuses and primaries and debates," DeWine says, "and as the campaign has played out it has become very clear to me that [Romney] is not the strongest candidate."

Around Ohio, DeWine says he's seen little enthusiasm for Romney. The enthusiasm he sees is for Santorum, and a win Tuesday would mean a lot.

"Ohio is a microcosm of the country; it's a reflection of the country," he says. "We always are right in the center of the general election and this time we're right in the center in the primaries."

At a recent Santorum event, Jessica Kramer of Mentor, Ohio, said she's not sure she can support him just yet.

"I really need to know that he's going to be a true fiscal conservative, and that's kind of why I am leaning more towards Ron Paul," Kramer says.

Cleveland Plain Dealer political reporter Henry Gomez says only two issues matter to Buckeye voters: jobs and the economy.

"The recession hit parts of Ohio particularly bad," Gomez tells NPR's Lyden. "Things are starting to show signs of improvement ... but there's a lot of angst about income, about jobs and long-term economic stability."

Based on some early voting numbers, Gomez says Republican voter turnout might be up over 2008, but support is still split among the candidates.

"So [voters are] galvanized, they're just not all galvanized behind one candidate and that can be a problem when they want to beat Barack Obama in November," he says.

Ohio voter Ed Ely of Painesville simply wants the candidates to put their differences aside and come together.

"Because really ... the big picture is that we're going after the White House in 2012 [and] not going against each other," Ely says. "And if we go against each other, nothing is going to get done."

Regardless of how Ohio turns out on Tuesday, Ely isn't likely to get his wish anytime soon, because it looks like this primary fight will be raging well after Tuesday's contests.

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