CINCINNATI — Some of Rick Santorum's supporters in Ohio were still stunned Wednesday following his withdrawal from the Republican presidential race, but a prominent backer called for rallying around Mitt Romney to carry the pivotal state in November.
"I think we all need to get behind Romney and beat Barack Obama," said Attorney General Mike DeWine, who had made a high-profile switch of his endorsement from Romney to Santorum less than a month before Ohio's primary, saying then he thought his fellow former senator had a compelling appeal that could overcome the former Massachusetts governor's money advantage.
"People worry a lot about the party coming together after a tough primary season, but that's part of politics," DeWine told The Associated Press. "This race is really over, and it's time to get together."
GOP delegate Ethan Reynolds, a city councilman in New Carlisle near Dayton, said Santorum's decision to drop out was understandable given his daughter Bella's health issues. Santorum, with a big delegate gap behind Romney, also was facing a tough challenge in his home state Pennsylvania's primary this month.
"I think he made the right choice, but it definitely was upsetting," said Reynolds. "It makes me very sad."
Reynolds said he will wait for Santorum to officially release his delegates, but expects to "enthusiastically support our nominee."
Diane Haupricht of Whitehouse in northwest Ohio, said she was undecided about whether she will switch her support to Romney.
"I'm not happy Rick dropped out," she said.
Santorum fell just short of Romney in Ohio's March 6 primary vote, but he didn't have enough delegates filed in some parts of the state. An Associated Press count of the state's 66 delegates as of Tuesday showed Mitt Romney with 35 delegates from Ohio to 21 for Santorum, with other delegates still unallocated.
Ohio's Republican Party is getting ready to select a new chairman Friday, so some questions about the delegates are on hold.
"It's over," former state chairman Bob Bennett, considered likely to be returned to the GOP post this week, said Wednesday of the race for the nomination. "I said it would be over by the end of April; I was three weeks off. It's over now."
Santorum delegate Mark Eubel of Columbus agreed, and said he will pledge his support to Romney. He doesn't see former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or Texas Rep. Ron Paul having viable campaigns left.
"Barring lightning hitting Romney, Gingrich will not be the nominee," said Eubel. "There's no other choice ... Romney is going to reach 1,144 (delegates needed for nomination). It's going to happen. There's no way out of it."
Lori Viars, a conservative activist in southwest Ohio, has been among supporters of Santorum or other Republicans who distrust Romney's conservative credentials. She had been clinging to hope that Santorum could mount a challenge to Romney at the party convention in Tampa.
"I'll support the nominee," she said. "Of course, I would back just about anybody over Barack Obama. We can't allow him to have a second term."
Eubel said he had reservations about Romney, but more about Obama.
"I think Romney wants to do the right thing, he just needs to be encouraged," Eubel said.
Viars said Romney needs a conservative running mate who will excite the party base. She likes Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
DeWine said Ohio Sen. Rob Portman would be a strong choice, and one who could help win Ohio. No Republican has reached the White House without carrying the swing state.
Associated Press reporters Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland, John Seewer in Toledo, Julie Carr Smyth and Barbara Rodriguez in Columbus and Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington contributed.
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