Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s come-from-behind victory last week in Michigan’s GOP presidential primary demonstrated that voters were more concerned about the economy and jobs than contraception and the culture wars, and that may go double for Republican voters in Ohio when they go to the polls today.
Ohio, with 66 delegates, will be the biggest prize by far among the ten states up for grabs in this crucial Super Tuesday showdown. Romney, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will be vying for a total of 437 delegates in the Buckeye State, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia, while Wyoming will begin its delegate selection process. By the time the dust settles late tonight, Romney could all but wrap up the Republican nomination with victories or strong showings in Ohio, Vermont, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Virginia.
Ohio has been the quintessential bellwether state in presidential elections over the past 50 years, going with the winner in twelve of the past thirteen elections. Four years ago, the state chose Arizona Sen. John McCain over conservative former governor Mike Huckabee in the GOP primary, and voted for Democrat Barack Obama over McCain in the general election – and that’s how the 2008 presidential drama played out.
With its large population of low income blue-collar workers, conservative Christians and tea party adherents, Ohio would seem tailor made for Santorum, who is struggling to get back in the game after a second place finish in Michigan and a series of gaffes and missteps that have undercut his once promising charge. But Democratic pollster Peter Hart contends that Ohio Republican voters historically have been more fiscally conservative than socially conservative. For whatever reasons, Santorum’s once double-digit lead over Romney in Ohio has vanished, and the two are locked in a statistical tie in the three latest surveys.
“Romney is really pushing that he’s got a lot of business experience which could resonate with some of the population,” Curtis Reynolds, an assistant economics professor at Kent State University, told The Fiscal Times. “On the other hand, Santorum is pushing that he’s from Western Pennsylvania, so he’s more blue-collar, as opposed to Romney, who might know a lot about high finance but doesn’t understand Ohio and jobs. . . . I don’t know how that’s going to play out with voters here.”
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“Everybody says it’s jobs, jobs, jobs, and that may be trite but it’s absolutely correct,” said Randy Olsen, an Ohio State University economist. “When you have a [national] unemployment rate over 8 percent and on top of that are a substantial number of people who have completely withdrawn from the labor force – that leaves a mark. That’s got to be the biggest issue.”
Santorum came within three percentage points of upsetting Romney in his home state of Michigan last Tuesday claiming the frontrunner status, after scoring victories in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. But Santorum blew the election in Michigan by giving short shrift to his economic message while pandering to evangelical Christians and tea party adherents. Like most Americans, more than half of the voters in Michigan chose the economy as their most important issue, and Romney won nearly half of those voters.