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Romney Aiming to Blunt Santorum's Edge in SW Ohio

Romney Aiming to Blunt Santorum's Edge in SW Ohio

By Erin McPike - March 2, 2012


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- While Newt Gingrich hustles across Georgia trying to halt Rick Santorum's momentum in the South and on the right, Mitt Romney is doubling down on the Buckeye State as Super Tuesday voting nears.

All three candidates will be in Ohio this weekend for a variety of events and candidate forums, but Romney is spending the weekend trying to ramp up his margins in the southwestern section of the state, which has a high density of conservative voters.

He returns to the state Friday night, where he'll hold a rally with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Cleveland, at the opposite corner of the state and a city with more moderate voters. It's an area where he is expected to perform best.

But then he'll spend all of Saturday in the southwest, holding three staged events in roughly the same media market, a symbolically significant tactic given all the delegates at stake in other states on Tuesday.

He starts off Saturday morning with a meet-and-greet at Sams Meats in Wilmington, the same town where he'll tape a forum at noon for Mike Huckabee's show on Fox News Channel that night. Then he'll hold an afternoon town-hall meeting just 35 miles away in Dayton at US Aeroteam. And that evening, he'll hold an event at Cincinnati's famed barbecue joint, Montgomery Inn at the Boathouse.

When analyzing media markets for placing advertising buys, Dayton and Cincinnati may be near each other but are nonetheless distinct. Still, the media coverage they draw is effectively the same, meaning Romney will be doing a lot more campaigning than is the norm for him in order to get the most attention in the Sunday newspapers in southwest Ohio. Moreover, Romney already has the support of Sen. Rob Portman, a Cincinnatian who is wildly popular in the area and who has already penned a pro-Romney column for the Cincinnati Enquirer this week.

Democratic strategists have scoffed at the schedule, believing that Romney's campaign must be terrified of losing to Santorum, given how much campaigning he’s doing in the state. Republicans favorable to the national front-runner, however, believe he must do this to run up his score in Santorum's strongest region to deny him an Ohio victory. Although Romney has had some staff on the ground here for some time, the bulk of his operation has only recently deployed and the effort is largely a last-minute affair.

As for Saturday's focus, Cincinnati has long been called "the gateway to the South." The downtown area is not encircled by the rest of the city, as is the case in most urban centers; instead, it faces the Ohio River, which borders Kentucky. There's a high level of cross-state transit and commuting, which gives a southern flair to the town, making it one of the most conservative big cities in the country.

Keeping Santorum's margins down there will be key if Romney wants to eke out a win.

For his part, the former Pennsylvania senator is holding an afternoon rally today in Chillicothe, the state’s original capital in the south-central part of the state. He hit the northwestern corner of Ohio, as Romney did, earlier in the week and will be back for a forum in Toledo Saturday night that Gingrich will also attend.

But an area that has not seen much candidate traffic is the expansive southeastern section of the state, with its wide swath of voters from rural areas. Santorum, from neighboring Pennsylvania, should perform well there.

For Romney, though, if he makes it to the general election, not touching those voters now could be harmful to his fall prospects. Democrats have been focusing on voters there and making many impressions since the party changed up its strategy in 2006. If Romney becomes the nominee, he'll already be behind in the region. 

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

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