To be honest, I think Romney is going to win. If that happens, I will be a 100 percent committed Romney supporter. —Charles Feicht, emergency room doctor
ZANESVILLE, Ohio — For housewife Teresa Price, Ohio's GOP presidential primary on Super Tuesday is about choosing which candidate can do the most for the nation's economy.
So she said she's voting for Mitt Romney, who suggested in a speech earlier Monday that Republicans need to focus on jobs and defeating President Barack Obama in November, not social issues.
Ohio is the most hotly contested of the 10 states voting Tuesday, with Romney now virtually tied in the polls with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who had held a significant lead.
The race has become a showdown between Romney's privileged background and a business career that made him rich and Santorum's blue-collar roots and conservative stands on social issues like abortion and birth control.
"The biggest issue for me is the economy," Price said at Romney's final public event in Ohio before the election, held in the downtown of this small community in the state's eastern coal region.
"Romney is more of a uniter than a divider," Price said, accusing Santorum of trying to tear the GOP apart.
She said Santorum is counting on Ohio having "more evangelicals than there are those of us who are more about taking care of the economy so we can take care of social issues like poverty."
Price, who supported former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. until he dropped out of the presidential race in January, said Santorum should stay away from issues that seem "to shove his religion down our throats."
But Charles Feicht, an emergency room doctor in Zanesville, said he'll probably vote for Santorum because of "his emphasis on moral values and the integrity of the Constitution."
"To be honest, I think Romney is going to win," Feicht said. "If that happens, I will be a 100 percent committed Romney supporter."
Leigh Sherman, a retired teacher from nearby Newark, said the Republicans ought to be talking about creating jobs and developing energy resources, "not about contraception or anything like that."
Sherman said Americans have "got more important things to worry about than that." He said although Santorum is "a real down-to-earth conservative," he believes the country needs Romney's business experience.
"We've got to get people working," Sherman said.
That's what Romney has stressed on the campaign trail in this rust belt state.
In Zanesville, he called the election "a critical time for this country. This isn't just about names on a ballot." He said someone who understands the economy should be in the White House.
Earlier Monday, during a campaign stop in Canton, Romney said at this point in the presidential race, "I see a lot of folks all talking about lots of things," without mentioning his GOP opponents by name.
"But," Romney said, according to the Boston Globe, "what we need to talk about to defeat Barack Obama is getting good jobs and scaling back the size of government — and that’s what I do. What I know is the economy.”
Daryl Gibson, a city worker in Columbus, said the Republicans are helping Obama's reelection by spending too much time on social issues.
A Democrat, Gibson said all voters want to know how the economy can be improved.
"The economy is No. 1. People have to have a job before we can do anything," he said. "Government has disappointed me."
Romney spent Monday campaigning throughout Ohio, but was scheduled to be in another Super Tuesday state on election night, Massachusetts. He served as the state's governor and expects an easy win there.
And the race is tightening up in Tennessee, one of two Southern states on the Super Tuesday schedule, where Santorum has held a sibstantial lead.
Richard Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, said Santorum is actively courting social conservatives in the Volunteer State, a scenario similar to what is happening in Ohio.
"The largest issue is whether the establishment will be able to prevail against the more evangelical groups, the religious right and so on who favor Santorum," he said.
Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz predicted "Romney will come out on top" in Tuesday's fight over more than 400 Republican delegates.
But Chaffetz said even a big win Tuesday in Ohio and other key states won’t be enough to end the race just yet.
Still, he said he hopes Super Tuesday’s results push fellow Republicans to get behind Romney as the best candidate to beat Obama.
“I hope so. I see things through the ‘Mitt Romney goggles.’ I hope everyone else sees things as clearly as I do,” Chaffetz said. “We as a party have to start focusing on Barack Obama.”
Sherman, the retired school teacher from Zanesville, said he didn't see any good reason for Republicans to rush to pick a candidate.
"You might as well hang your laundry out now," Sherman said. "The longer the better. You want to keep the Democrats guessing who your candidate will be."
Ohio State University political science professor Paul Beck said there's a chance the race could drag on until the GOP's national convention in August.
Republican voters, Beck said, are discouraged with their choices. "They want to see a champion come forward," to take on Obama, he said, and so far, they aren't sure any of the four remaining candidates fit the bill.
That means the vote could continue to be split between Romney and Santorum, as well as former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, so that no candidate reaches the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination.16 comments on this story
The chances of that happening, Beck said, are "remote but it's not zero." Such a situation would create "a real donnybrook at the convention" that even could result in another candidate being drafted to run.
There’s been some talk the party may end up having to recruit a new candidate, such as former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin or former Florida Gov Jeb Bush.
Chaffetz, though, said he's certain no other Republicans will get in the race.
“Nah, no way,” Chaffetz said. “Remember how good (former candidate Texas Gov.) Rick Perry looked until he opened his mouth. … Everybody likes the backup quarterback until he gets into the game.”
Contributing: John Daley