Republican Race to Reset in Ohio Next Tuesday

Republican Race to Reset in Ohio Next Tuesday

By Erin McPike - February 29, 2012

CINCINNATI -- Some strange conventional wisdom has been floating around in recent days: If Mitt Romney were to win Michigan's primary, he'd almost naturally do the same in Ohio a week later on Super Tuesday.

Don’t tell that to a Buckeye; they're not so into the Wolverines.

It's not a particularly plausible argument for several reasons. First, Romney doesn't have the same electoral track record in the two states -- he didn't compete in the 2008 Ohio primary against John McCain because he had dropped out of the race a month before. Second, Romney doesn’t have the kind of personal connections to Ohio he has in Michigan, where he grew up and where his father was governor. There’s also the developing dynamic in this primary season that a win in one state does not translate to momentum in the next set of contests. (That will be tested again following Romney's double-barrel wins in Arizona and Michigan.)

What may be most important, though, is that Ohio hasn’t seen the kind of campaign action that Michigan did recently. The Romney campaign has been advertising on TV lightly here, but that pales in comparison to the saturation in the early voting states. The super PAC supporting Rick Santorum has put some money into TV spots, but too little to make much of an impact.

One Columbus-based Republican consultant summed up the state of political activity in Ohio thusly: Santorum has sent out direct mail, Romney has had some town-hall meetings and both Romney and Ron Paul have been doing a fair amount of volunteer phone banking. In general, though, this operative said the race could be described thus far as a “phantom primary.”

What Romney does have going for him is the largest slate of support from elected officials in the state. He boasts the backing of Sen. Rob Portman, a potential vice presidential contender, and on Wednesday he’ll get the endorsement of state Auditor Dave Yost.

Romney has had an operation in the state for several months, and his successful campaign team from Florida headed to Ohio after that victory a month ago. Today he’ll hold a rally in Toledo and a town-hall meeting in Columbus, and over the next several days he’ll roll out additional endorsements from local leaders and coalitions. A campaign spokesman said he’ll make several more trips to Ohio before Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Newt Gingrich and Santorum both have taken turns atop the Ohio polls, but every survey taken in February showed Santorum with a substantial lead. He leads the RealClearPolitics average by 8.3 percentage points -- 34.3 percent to Romney’s 26 percent.

Santorum also might be the candidate who has something close to a home-state advantage here: He’s from neighboring Pennsylvania, which shares a heavy emphasis on steel manufacturing. And that figures greatly into his economic message. He’ll be back on the ground here before the week is up, but in the meantime, a group of socially conservative, pro-life women leaders who have endorsed him will campaign on his behalf in all of the major cities over the next two days.

For his part, Gingrich was campaigning in Ohio when Santorum and Romney were focused on Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota several weeks ago. Starting Thursday, he will air a 30-minute energy-focused TV ad each day through Monday on the Ohio News Network. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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