Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won the crucial battleground state of Ohio, the major prize on the so-called “Super Tuesday” of the Republican Presidential Primary campaign.
"Tonight we are doing some counting. We are counting up the delegates for the convention, and it looks good. And we are counting down the days to November, and that looks even better,” exclaimed Romney to a cheering crowd in the state he once governed.
It was a good night for Romney. He won the most delegates in the 10 states that held presidential nominating contests, including Ohio where his victory over former U.S. senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania did not come until past midnight.
But it was a narrow victory, leaving Santorum still in the race for the Republican nomination.
Voters lack enthusiasm
The enthusiasm of the crowd that cheered for Romney's speech far exceeded voter enthusiasm at a polling station in Columbus, Ohio.
“I voted for Mitt Romney because I think he is the strongest person, and I just want this to be over so we can start concentrating on beating [President Barack] Obama,” said voter Pat Zadnik.
Casey Welch was one of Ohio's many voters who remained undecided about frontrunners Romney and Santorum until the end.
“I voted for Mitt Romney today. I think he is best suited to get the economy back on track and help America move forward,” said Welch.
When asked when he made that decision, he replied, “just today.”
Many Republican voters remain uncertain. Romney is the frontrunner, but not a dominant candidate. And some voters feel social conservatives such as Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who won his home state of Georgia, are too polarizing.
The economy is the key issue, with voters in Ohio's countryside and cities worried about job losses and the soaring national debt.
“I voted for Mitt Romney because I think he is a good businessman, and I think government is a business and we need somebody in there that knows what they are doing,” explained Ohio voter Jinnie Buskirk.
It is a numbers game. Candidates are trying to secure the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination.
Santorum essentially split the vote in Ohio, despite being heavily outspent by Romney's campaign.
Santorum was triumphant after winning states in the south and midwest. He addressed a crowd in Steubenville, Ohio, a former steel mill town where he had campaigned.
“Tonight it is clear,” said Santorum. “It is clear. We have won races all over this country against the odds. When they thought 'OK, he is finally finished,' we keep coming back.”
That is good news to Ohio voters such as Jack Auer.
“They all carry baggage, for crying out loud, but Santorum, I think, has remained fairly constant in his positions, his social things. That is important,” said Auer. “And, of course, the economy is the main thing as far as I am concerned.”
Swing voters, swing state
And there are some lifelong Republicans who plan to vote for Democratic President Barack Obama in November.
“I think the Republican Party has been taken over by right-wing conservatives out of touch with the things that Americans actually need,” said exasperated Ohio voter John Payne.
It is a sentiment that carries weight in a state that has sometimes gone Republican and sometimes Democratic in past general elections.