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Michigan and Ohio: Big Tests for Romney and Santorum

These Big Ten rivals will clarify the race.

by
Patrick Reddy

Bio

February 12, 2012 - 12:54 am
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Ohio is both more complicated and difficult to predict. The Buckeye State was settled by Yankees north of Columbus and by Southerners & Border South migrants below that. (Cincinnati is a bit of an exception with large German, Italian, and Irish Catholic populations.)  The industrial cities (Cleveland, Youngstown, Toledo, etc.) along Rt. 80 are traditionally Democratic cities that have more in common with Chicago, Pittsburgh, or Detroit than Columbus or Cincinnati.  On the other hand, Cincinnati and especially Columbus are more white-collar.  (The great NFL rivalry between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns applies to Ohio politics as well.)  To add to the state’s complexity, the southeastern part of the state along the Ohio River is more like Appalachia than Cleveland. The Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus areas all have a fair amount of migrants who came up from Kentucky and Tennessee to find work. They are Newt’s best hope for a good showing in Ohio.

Romney will be heavily favored in all suburbs to the north of Columbus. (As in Detroit, very few residents of industrial cities like Cleveland and Youngstown vote in GOP primaries.)  Unlike Michigan, Democrats and independents can vote in the Ohio primary. So either Santorum or Newt will have a good chance to entice the conservative Democrats in southeast Ohio to cross over.

If Santorum wins rural voters north of I-70 and Newt wins them south of I-70, then Romney will once again skate through a divided opposition. For either conservative to win, they’ll need a unified rural vote. And either Gingrich or Santorum could make up for a loss in Michigan with a win in Arizona’s sweepstakes primary the same day, although Mitt currently owns a double-digit lead in the Grand Canyon State.  (Then Romney would suffer the ironic fate of winning more votes on Feb. 28, but earning fewer delegates.)

Ohio has more rural voters than Michigan (almost half of all Republicans in the Buckeye State) and also slightly more evangelicals, which should boost Santorum since those are exactly the kind of voters he’s been winning.  Another piece of good news for Santorum: at least 15% of the Republican turnout comes from rural German Catholics in the northwest part of the state who often vote on “values” issues.  A huge turnout from these German Catholics for a gay marriage referendum in 2004 helped tip the balance in Ohio and re-elect George W. Bush.

Losing Michigan would be disastrous for Romney, a sign of a true meltdown.  It will obviously be a good week for Romney if he wins both states.  But win or lose, it will also likely be a pretty good week for Santorum, too. Neither state is winner-take-all, so he will get about 25% of the delegates, mainly from rural votes. For Santorum to get the great news of winning Ohio, watch both the German Catholic vote and those living south of Columbus. And if Gingrich can somehow rise from the dead for the third time, this race might go all the way to the floor of the GOP convention.

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Patrick Reddy is a political consultant and co-author of California After Arnold. He is now writing 21st Century America: How Suburbanites, Immigrants and High Tech Voters Will Choose Our Presidents.
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