In truth, both candidates need Ohio very badly to claim victory on Super Tuesday. As far as the primaries are concerned, Santorum is ahead in Tennessee and Oklahoma and has a shot at winning the North Dakota and Alaska caucuses (Idaho, where caucuses are being held Tuesday night, is 27% Mormon and will very likely fall to Romney). Romney will win his home state of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia (where Santorum is not on the ballot), and very likely the Idaho caucus. It would seem that a win in Ohio would feed the perception that the candidate who wins Ohio has carried the day and will be the beneficiary of the positive press that would follow. This would obviously benefit Rick Santorum far more than Mitt Romney because of Santorum’s dwindling war chest, which, at the moment, depends instead on the buzz generated by a perceived win on Super Tuesday rather than a campaign organization that can raise millions of dollars in a short period of time.
The polls in Ohio tell an interesting story. While the vote percentages are close, it is the details of those surveys where the real tale is to be told.
Romney leads Santorum among Catholics by 39-33. He is also winning women by the same margin. Santorum is winning the conservative vote by 12% while Romney is winning the moderates by a little more. Santorum is 10 points ahead among the tea party members and 12 points behind Romney among those who oppose or who are neutral about the tea party. Fully 37% of Ohio voters — even at this late date — could change their minds.
Good news for Santorum: There are more evangelicals in Ohio than other states, thus his 6-point advantage over Romney among Protestants will count for more than Romney’s 6-point lead over him among Catholics. He is also running virtually even with Romney in the suburbs.
Romney’s advantage among women may be key. Santorum only leads among men by 5 points and since more women usually turn out in primaries than men, that difference may be significant. But clearly, given the small separation between the candidates elsewhere, the race may hinge on factors that can’t be foreseen ahead of time.
Despite Santorum’s delegate problems, a win in Ohio will assure his continued viability going into the primaries of Alabama and Mississippi on March 13 and the Missouri caucus on March 17, where Santorum scored a decisive win in the “beauty contest” primary held on February 7. But the primary calendar is getting shorter and unless Santorum can start scoring some significant victories over Romney, the delegate arithmetic will start to weigh against him and Romney will simply outlast him.