Ohio is known as a bellwether state in national politics, indicating which way the nation is headed for any given election. This holds true for the GOP primary being held on Super Tuesday. The contest in the Buckeye State will be more than about winners and losers; the results will also show us what kinds of voters are backing a specific candidate and how that can translate into victory against Barack Obama in November.
Two weeks ago, Rick Santorum held a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney in Ohio. But then came a string of Romney victories that appeared to give him momentum, and the former Massachusetts governor roared back into contention in the state. Over the last seven days, Romney has narrowed the gap with Santorum to the point that the most recent polls show a statistical dead heat.
Unfortunately for Rick Santorum, even a win in Ohio may not give him a majority of delegates. This is because the former senator failed to gather enough signatures in three congressional districts to qualify for reaping any of the 9 delegates at stake. He also failed to get the required signatures in six other districts. As for the latter, he may qualify to get one or perhaps two delegates in those six districts, but not all three. All told, Santorum might win the state but lose up to 25% of the delegates. Under the rules, Santorum can petition the party to include those delegates in his totals at a later date, but if Romney wins the popular vote, even if Santorum won the congressional district, he might have trouble collecting them.
Santorum’s delegate problems notwithstanding, there is a race to be won in Ohio and to the winner probably goes the perception of victory on Super Tuesday. Ohio is a big state — a microcosm of the country itself. The percentages of race, class, ethnicity, and religion roughly mirror those found in the country at large. It stands to reason that if a candidate can cobble together a winning coalition in Ohio for the GOP primary, he has a good head start on doing the same thing for the general election.
No less than six polls have been published in the last 24 hours, with two showing Santorum slightly ahead, three with Romney leading, and one that shows a tie. All polls show the leader within the margin of error. These polls are essentially unchanged from surveys that were published Friday and Saturday. Might we deduce that Romney’s momentum may have stalled and that the race is truly deadlocked? Unless something very surprising happens, it is likely to be a long night on Tuesday to find out the answer to that question.