At a Super Tuesday church precinct in Fayetteville, Ga., businessman Glenn Valencia crisply assessed the pros and cons of Republican presidential candidates in a way that could make Mitt Romney swoon.
Rick Santorum: "Christian man, has done well with the common person, but at the end of the day can he beat Obama?" Valencia asked. Newt Gingrich: "Great intellect.... "Hometown guy. But he's got a lot of baggage." Ron Paul: No comment.
And Romney? "You compare Obama with Romney — Obama big spender, community organizer. Romney — business organizer, wealth builder, a guy who knows how to make money and has done well, and that's what he's done for a profession, is turn around companies and that's what we need to do is turn around the economy."
From the start, Romney has been trying to convince Republicans of those very qualities. On Super Tuesday, he closed that sale with Valencia and voters like him. Others who picked Romney did so in the manner of past contests — with a notable lack of enthusiasm.
At a precinct outside Columbus, Ohio, one woman acknowledged she voted for Romney and made a gagging gesture. His rivals tended to attract more passionate support.
Tricia Tetreault, 49, of Edmond, Okla., voted for Gingrich, whom she considered the best in a humdrum field. It was enough to make her pine for the Good Old Days of the Grand Old Party.
"Ronald Reagan isn't available anymore," she lamented. "What can I say?"
At an elementary school in suburban North Royalton near Cleveland, aircraft mechanic Mike Reardon went with his gut — Santorum — even though his head might have told him Romney's got the best shot for Republicans in the fall. "I think he's a good conservative," he said of Santorum. "I don't know if he would be the best to go up against Obama but he's my personal favorite."
In Ohio, the state with the most fiercely fought contest, voters in different places called the campaign a "painful" mud-slinging affair powered by attack ads, largely from Romney allies. In suburban Cleveland, Matt Howells, 52, a contractor and Santorum voter, worries that the rivals have merely managed to harm Republican prospects in November with all that negativity. "They really have an uphill battle," he said. "I really don't see a Republican winning the White House. I see it going down as Obama again."
George Knoske, 48, an independent who voted for Republican George W. Bush in 2000, said the Republicans don't stack up well against President Barack Obama when it comes to being reasonable.Comment on this story
"I would say that he generally is more encompassing of more people than the Republican candidates seem to be," he said. "They are not enough toward the middle for me." Knoske, who works in computer technology, was among the Ohioans who came out to vote on local issues or for Obama in the irrelevant Democratic primary.
At various precincts around the country, people had nice things to say about Gingrich's intelligence and his taste for big ideas. But there was plenty of talk, too, about baggage, which includes his acknowledgments of past marital infidelity.
At an Atlanta precinct where she voted for Romney, Lena Sisselman, 96, summed up those concerns about Gingrich more pointedly than most.
"I think Gingrich is a smart man, but he's out of place," she said. "And he doesn't know how to keep his pants zipped."
Associated Press writers Ken Miller in Edmond, Okla.; Thomas J. Sheeran in Strongsville, Ohio; Lisa Cornwell in Anderson Township, Ohio; Marina Hutchinson in Fayetteville, Ga.; and Peter Prengaman in Atlanta contributed to this report.