Santorum, Romney duel in Ohio, split other states

By David Espo

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 6 2012 9:41 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney smiles as he addresses supporters at his Super Tuesday campaign rally in Boston, Tuesday, March 6, 2012.

Stephan Savoia, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney split six states and dueled in an almost impossibly close race 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.

A resurgent Santorum broke through in primaries in Oklahoma and Tennessee and in the North Dakota caucuses, raising fresh doubts about Romney's ability to corral the votes of conservatives in some of the most Republican states in the country.

Romney had a home-state win in Massachusetts to go with victories in Vermont and in Virginia, where neither Santorum nor Newt Gingrich qualified for the ballot. He also led in early Idaho caucus returns and — most important — padded his lead for delegates to the Republican National Convention.

On the busiest night of the campaign season, Ohio was the marquee matchup, a second industrial state showdown in as many weeks between Romney and Santorum. It drew the most campaigning and television advertisements of all 10 Super Tuesday contests and for good reason— no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying the state in the fall.

After trailing for much of the night, Romney forged ahead in a count that stretched toward midnight. With votes tallied in 91 percent of the state's precincts, he led by about 5,000 votes out of 1.1 million cast.

Gingrich had a victory in his column — his first win in more than six weeks. The former House speaker triumphed at home in Georgia, but a barrage of attack ads by a super PAC supporting Romney helped hold him below 50 percent and forced him to share the delegates.

Texas Rep. Ron 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, given his mixed night, 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. "This was a big night tonight," he said. "We have won in the West, the Midwest and the South, and we're ready to win across this country."

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, a total that included 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.

Ohio Republicans were a party divided, based not only on the popular vote but also interviews with voters as they left their polling places.

Santorum outpolled Romney among Ohioans with incomes under $100,000, while Romney won among those with six-figure incomes and up. Romney won among working women; Santorum among women who do not.