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Santorum, Romney duel in Ohio, split other states

By David Espo

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 6 2012 8:51 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, center right, kisses his wife Karen before speaking to supporters at an election night party at Steubenville High School in Steubenville, Ohio, Tuesday, March 6, 2012.

Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney split six states and 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.

Santorum's broke through in primaries in Oklahoma and Tennessee and in the North Dakota caucuses. Romney had a home-state win in Massachusetts to go with victories in Vermont and Virginia.

Ohio was the marquee matchup of the night, a second industrial state showdown in as many weeks for the two rivals. Of all the Super Tuesday states, it drew the most campaigning and television advertisements, and for good reason— no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying the state in the fall.

With votes tallied in 77 percent of the state's precincts, Santorum was winning 38 percent of the vote to 37 for Romney, 15 percent for Newt Gingrich and 9 percent for Ron Paul.

Gingrich had a victory in his column - his first win in more than six weeks. He triumphed at home in Georgia, but had to share the delegates.

Paul pinned his hopes on Idaho and Alaska as he scratched for his first victory of the campaign season.

Whatever the outcome in Ohio, Romney was on track to pad his lead in the hunt for delegates to the Republican National Convention. Not surprisingly, he focused on the delegate chase.

"This is a process of gathering enough delegates to become the nominee, and I think we're on track to have that happen," he told reporters as he arrived home in Massachusetts to vote in the primary.

Later, he told supporters, "I'm going to get this nomination."

Yet Santorum's multiple victories, coupled with Gingrich's win, provided fresh evidence that Romney's conservative rivals retain the ability to outpoll him in certain 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.

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

Some 419 delegates were at stake in the 10 states.

Romney picked up at least 129 delegates during the evening, Santorum 47, Gingrich 42 and Paul at least 10.

That gave the former Massachusetts governor 332, more than all his rivals combined, including endorsements from members of the Republican National Committee who automatically attend the convention and can support any candidate they choose. Santorum had 139 delegates, Gingrich 75 and Paul 35. 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.