Al Behrman, Associated Press
WEST CHESTER, Ohio — The Grand Ole Pub in this Cincinnati suburb is a good place to find Republicans. It's not so easy, though, to find one who feels settled on, or even enthused about the party's current field of presidential candidates.
Patron Jim Goll sat near a portrait of conservative standard-bearer Ronald Reagan, and the walls are decorated with pictures of talk show hosts Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly and other political figures. It seemed that Goll and other patrons couldn't see any of the current field joining the Republican icons on the pub wall.
"They've all got some points that I like," Goll said. "If I could take all the candidates and put them in a pot and mix them together, that would be awesome."
Ohio has been a swing state for decades, and recent polls indicate Republicans could take it back in 2012 after Barack Obama's 2008 win — Republican George W. Bush carried Ohio twice, as did Democrat Bill Clinton. But first Ohioans would have to rally around a common candidate.
Mixed feelings and indecision seem common across a swath of Republican-dominated suburbs that provide votes for Republican nominees — whom history says must win Ohio to win the general election. A recent statewide Quinnipiac University poll indicated support for Mitt Romney was at 24 percent, with "don't know" at 22 and Rick Perry at 21 and the rest scattered among the other candidates.
The region's Republican voters were credited with delivering Ohio — and clinching re-election — in 2004 for Bush. John McCain also ran well in the region in 2008, but shy of Bush's 2-to-1 margins.
Ohio plans to vote on March 6, the "Super Tuesday" when about a dozen or so states will hold primaries or caucuses. The challenge for Republican candidates is to generate enough enthusiasm out of the current malaise that they rally behind the Republican nominee. Otherwise, low turnout could turn the state toward Obama again.
Lori Viars, a social conservative activist in Warren County, a series of suburbs between Cincinnati and Dayton, is among those Republicans who predict Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, can't get the region's base out in sufficient numbers.
"I think he (Romney) is the only who one would be objectionable to my crowd, and I worry that because conservatives are split among the other candidates, Romney could win (the nomination) and then we could end up losing to Obama," said Viars, an anti-abortion leader for whom Romney's since-changed abortion rights position alienates her. "I definitely fear for our party."
Viars is still undecided, which she said is unusual for her at this stage.
When Perry got into the presidential race, Tracy Brewer was hoping that the Texas governor would sweep her off her political feet. More than a month later, she's still standing, and still undecided. Perry has stumbled in debates, and she opposes his failed attempt to require Texas girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cancer, or Texas's policy giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.
Brewer was dead set against Romney in 2008, but she's keeping an open mind for 2012 if he looks like the best candidate to defeat Obama.
The GOP-dominated southwest Ohio region has a substantial tea party movement, and many adherents say they support Ron Paul, the libertarian-minded Republican congressman.
Mike Wilson, leader of the Cincinnati tea party, isn't among them. He disagrees with Paul on foreign policy.
"Everybody in has strengths and weaknesses," said Wilson, who thinks Paul has a loyal base that will keep him in the running late into the race, and that it's too soon to crown candidates as front-runners. "I think the media are wrong if they take this as a two-person race."
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