Ohio pri­mary win seen as spring­board for Novem­ber

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

COLUM­BUS, OHIO | Gre­gory Gantt said that on his drive home from a Mitt Rom­ney rally over the week­end, he lis­tened to a ra­dio com­mer­cial about the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor — then just two min­utes later got a phone call with the same mes­sage from the Re­pub­li­can front-run­ner.

Mr. Gantt, Mont­gomery County GOP leader, said the ads were part of a ti­dal wave of “robo­calls,” mail­ings, and tele­vi­sion and ra­dio spots that Mr. Rom­ney and Rick San­to­rum are blan­ket­ing Ohio with in the count­down to Su­per Tues­day, the 10-state mega-con­test that is the first ma­jor test of the can­di­dates’ na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“Ohio and other pri­mary-state wins can give can­di­dates mo­men­tum with del­e­gates, fundrais­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tion to keep go­ing. Win­ning a bat­tle­ground state like Ohio means that ei­ther Rom­ney or San­to­rum can make the case that they are the best qual­i­fied to take on Pres­i­dent Obama,” said Ron Bon­jean, a GOP strate­gist.

More than 400 del­e­gates will be up for grabs across 10 states, mak­ing Tues­day a po­ten­tial turn­ing point in the chase for the 1,144 del­e­gates needed to wrap up the party’s nom­i­na­tion.

Mr. Rom­ney, rid­ing a three-state win­ning streak, comes into the week with more del­e­gates than any­one else. Last week, he won the pri­maries in Ari­zona and his na­tive Michi­gan — a re­sult that was mud­died by the fact that he split the state’s 30 del­e­gates down the mid­dle with Mr. San­to­rum, spark­ing re­newed con­cerns about his strug­gle to cor­ral the party’s con­ser­va­tive base.

But he helped put some of those con­cerns to bed on Satur­day af­ter he won the Washington cau­cuses.

Tues­day rep­re­sents an op­por­tu­nity to send a pow­er­ful state­ment that he should be the party’s stan­dard-bearer against Pres­i­dent Obama — par­tic­u­larly in Ohio, which his­tor­i­cally has served as a swing state in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

“If Rom­ney cap­tures Ohio, then he can make a le­git­i­mate ar­gu­ment that con­ser­va­tive pri­mary vot­ers in the Rust Belt states sup­port him,” Mr. Bon­jean said.

Mr. San­to­rum has led here in the polls since early Fe­bru­ary, right around the same time he up­set Mr. Rom­ney in the Colorado cau­cuses and also walked away with vic­to­ries from the Min­nesota cau­cuses and the non­bind­ing Mis­souri pri­mary.

Mr. Rom­ney, though, has been gain­ing steam in re­cent days af­ter the cam­paign — and a su­per PAC sup­port­ing his can­di­dacy — in­vested mil­lions in the state, much of it on neg­a­tive ads.

“The con­test has be­come very tight,” said Paul A. Beck, pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Ohio State Univer­sity. “There was a pe­riod very early on where Rom­ney ap­peared to have Ohio, more or less locked up. Lead­er­ship here in Ohio on the Re­pub­li­can side was gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of Rom­ney, and then that kind of dis­ap­peared. And what we’ve seen in the last few weeks was a San­to­rum surge.”

Mr. Beck said vot­ers see Mr. Rom­ney as the best bet to knock off Mr. Obama in Novem­ber — but they still strug­gle to con­nect with the for­mer gov­er­nor.

“They are not quite con­fi­dent in him as rep­re­sent­ing what they be­lieve. Philo­soph­i­cally, he is in the right place, but I think they feel that he doesn’t have, say, the com­mon touch in a way, and they are a bit more com­fort­able with San­to­rum in that re­spect,” he said.

But Mr. San­to­rum has prob­lems in Ohio, too — es­pe­cially af­ter say­ing that read­ing then-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date John F. Kennedy’s speech to Bap­tist min­is­ters in Septem­ber 1960 made him want to “throw up” and call­ing Mr. Obama a “snob” for want­ing “ev­ery­body in Amer­ica to go to col­lege.”

“I think there are some things San­to­rum kind of got car­ried way with that re­ally didn’t play well for him and are cre­at­ing some doubts in the minds of peo­ple who oth­er­wise would be sup­port­ing them, I think,” Mr. Beck said. “I think San­to­rum has his own prob­lem, and the prob­lem is that he has be­come al­most too ex­treme in his so­cial con­ser­vatism.”

Mr. Gantt said Mr. San­to­rum may be over­matched by Mr. Rom­ney in Ohio when it comes to or­ga­ni­za­tional strength.

“I have watched the Rom­ney or­ga­ni­za­tion kind of be present and plod along and have struc­ture in place for months be­fore the other cam­paigns. They have kind of had a stead­fast pres­ence, ei­ther by peo­ple on the ground or mail­ings and things that you haven’t seen out of the other cam­paigns,” Mr. Gantt said, adding, “I don’t know that San­to­rum has got enough gas in the tank to re­ally pen­e­trate into the minds of vot­ers here.”

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