Romney takes 3 states, Santorum 2, Gingrich 1

By David Espo

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 6 2012 8:06 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at his election night rally at Steubenville High School, Tuesday, March 6, 2012, in Steubenville, Ohio.

Eric Gay, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney won three primaries, Rick Santorum countered coolly with a pair and the Republican rivals dueled for supremacy in Ohio on a Super Tuesday that stretched from one end of the country to the other in the most turbulent Republican presidential race in a generation.

Newt Gingrich won a home-field primary in Georgia, and Rep. Ron Paul looked to three caucus states for his first victory of the campaign season as Republicans choose a challenger for Democratic President Barack Obama.

Romney, who won at home in Massachusetts and in Vermont and Virginia, said, "This is a process of gathering enough delegates to become the nominee, and I think we're on track to have that happen."

But Santorum's showing — he led in the North Dakota caucuses, too — on top of Gingrich's triumph was fresh evidence that Romney's rivals retain the ability to outpace him in parts of the country despite his huge organizational and financial advantages.

Santorum waited until Oklahoma and Tennessee fell into his column before speaking to cheering supporters in Ohio.

"We're going to win a few. We're going to lose a few. But as it looks right now, we're going to get a couple of gold medals and a whole passel of silver," he said.

Ohio was the marquee matchup of the night, the second industrial state showdown in as many weeks for the former Massachusetts governor and the former senator from Pennsylvania.

With the vote tallied from 49 percent of the Ohio precincts, Santorum was gaining 38 percent, to 36 for Romney. Gingrich had 15 percent and Paul 9.

There were primaries in Virginia, Vermont, Ohio, Massachusetts, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Caucuses in North Dakota, Idaho and Alaska rounded out the calendar.

In all, 419 delegates were at stake in the 10 states, and Romney's wins, by overwhelming margins, allowed him to pad his earlier lead for the nomination.

He picked up at least 90 during the evening, Gingrich 39 and Santorum 34 and Paul at least 6.

That gave the former Massachusetts governor 293, including endorsements from members of the Republican National Committee who automatically attend the convention and can support any candidate they choose. Santorum had 126 delegates, Gingrich 72 and Paul 31. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer.

In interviews as voters left their polling places, Republicans in state after state said the economy was the top issue and an ability to defeat Obama was what mattered most as they made their Super Tuesday choices.

They also indicated nagging concerns about the candidate they supported, even in Massachusetts, There, one-third of all primary voters said they had reservations, and about three-quarters of those voted for Romney.

Massachusetts is a reliably Democratic state in most presidential elections, but in Ohio, 41 percent of primary voters said they, too, had reservations about the candidate they supported. No Republican has ever won the White House without capturing Ohio.

Gingrich's victory was his first since he captured the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21, and the former House speaker said it would propel him on yet another comeback in a race where he has faded badly over the past six weeks.

Obama, the man they hope to defeat in November, dismissed the almost-constant criticism of his foreign policy efforts and accused Republicans of "beating the drums of war" over Iran. "Those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander in chief," he said. Unopposed for the Democratic nomination to a second term, he stepped into the Republican race with a Super Tuesday news conference at the White House, then attended a $35,800-a-ticket fundraiser a few blocks from the White House.

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