Local GOP Leaders Torn Ahead Of Ohio's Key Vote Mitt Romney has built the superior organization, but "it's sort of coming together" for Rick Santorum. The two GOP front-runners are battling over the crown jewel of Super Tuesday and a key swing state this fall.
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Local GOP Leaders Torn Ahead Of Ohio's Key Vote

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Local GOP Leaders Torn Ahead Of Ohio's Key Vote

Local GOP Leaders Torn Ahead Of Ohio's Key Vote

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. After last night's feisty Republican debate in Mesa, Arizona, the next big date in the GOP presidential primary is Tuesday. That's when Arizona and Michigan hold their primaries.

CORNISH: Then there's an even bigger date: March 6th, Super Tuesday, when 10 states hold their contests. Perhaps the most consequential of those will be in the swing state of Ohio. It has 66 delegates and will be a key battleground in November.

BLOCK: Polls show Rick Santorum holding a slight lead there over Mitt Romney, but they also indicate half of Ohio's GOP primary voters may yet change their minds.

NPR's David Welna was at a party last night in Cincinnati to watch the debate. He sent this report.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Price Hill Chili is a down-home Greek restaurant on Cincinnati's west side where local GOP leaders like to gather. So in the same room where Newt Gingrich made a campaign stop two weeks ago, 10 Ohio Republicans sit around drinking beer, watching the candidates debate on TV.

Alex Triantafilou is chairman of the Hamilton County Republicans. The latest phenomenon in southwestern Ohio, he says, is Rick Santorum.

ALEX TRIANTAFILOU: You know, what we've seen, really, is that we've seen that Governor Romney has a terrific grassroots organization in place, but I will tell you that Senator Santorum is playing catch-up and I don't mean that in a negative way. I mean that he is - there is a tremendous group of supporters for him, so it's sort of coming together for him.

WELNA: One of those helping it come together is Tracy Winkler, Hamilton County's clerk of courts.

TRACY WINKLER: Today - and I say today because I've changed my mind several times. Today, I would vote for Rick Santorum.

WELNA: Winkler says it's been a wrenching back-and-forth.

WINKLER: Initially, I wasn't like kind of sticking to my conservative roots and I thought I could vote for Romney and then I thought, Gingrich, and really have just kind of seen his campaign kind of falling apart. So I really feel like, right now, it's Santorum. But we have a few days to go, so we'll see.

WELNA: Another local official, Tony Rosiello, says he and his wife were also once Romney supporters. She now backs Santorum and he now prefers Newt Gingrich to Romney.

TONY ROSIELLO: There was just something missing from I don't know really what - to put my finger on it. Maybe a little bit of plastic. Something just didn't jive with me. There was a more emotional connection with speaker Gingrich and that's something that just stayed with me. It was a gut feel.

WELNA: Meanwhile, the former Massachusetts governor is arguing a point on the TV screen above Rosiello.

MITT ROMNEY: And I believe women have the capacity to serve in our military and in positions of significance and responsibility, as we do throughout our society.

WELNA: Bill Miles is enraptured.

BILL MILES: I'm supporting Governor Romney wholeheartedly.

WELNA: This 53 year old retirement planner is confident about how this contest will play out.

MILES: At the end of the day and the end of the primary process, Governor Romney will be standing tall as the choice that will unite conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans and independents and defeat Barack Obama.

WELNA: A conservative Republican nearby disagrees. George Brunemann is the cofounder of the Southwest Cincinnati Tea Party.

GEORGE BRUNEMANN: If you nominate Mitt as our guy for the conservative side, you totally take Obamacare off the table because he is, essentially, the author of Obamacare. And, from a Tea Party perspective, why in the world would we want our only two choices to be the only two men who have signed into law universal health care?

WELNA: This southwest corner of Ohio has many Catholics and other evangelical social conservatives. There are centrist Republicans as well, like electrical engineer John Ebie, who's also not sold on Romney.

JOHN EBIE: I'm torn. I'm a moderate. You know, I'm looking at Newt, saying, there's the guy that can bring it together, but I'm not sure he can win. And I'm looking at Santorum, saying, oh, I just don't know enough about this guy. So, for me, it's all about homework now. I've got to go out and do more homework.

WELNA: Ebie has a dozen days to make up his mind. Voters here will then decide who wins the biggest contest to date on this year's likely battleground states. David Welna, NPR News, Cincinnati.

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