Romney-Santorum Ohio Rematch Divides Republicans by Income

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Mitt Romney at a campaign rally at Gregory Industries on March 4, 2012 in Canton, Ohio.

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Mitt Romney at a campaign rally at Gregory Industries on March 4, 2012 in Canton, Ohio. Close

Mitt Romney at a campaign rally at Gregory Industries on March 4, 2012 in Canton, Ohio.

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A deserted store on March 4, 2012 in Findlay, Ohio. Close

A deserted store on March 4, 2012 in Findlay, Ohio.

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A free community meal at The Center on March 4, 2012 in Lima, Ohio. A census report released in 2011 showed that 15.3 percent of Ohioans live in poverty, the highest rate in the state in more than 30 years. Close

A free community meal at The Center on March 4, 2012 in Lima, Ohio. A census report released in 2011 showed that 15.3... Read More

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pays for a to-go food order at The Montgomery Inn Restaurant at the Roadhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio. Close

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pays for a to-go food order at The Montgomery Inn Restaurant at the... Read More

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Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum greets people during a campaign stop at Chillicothe High School in Chillicothe, Ohio. Close

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum greets people during a campaign stop at Chillicothe High School in Chillicothe, Ohio.

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are campaigning in contrasting appeals to blocs of voters divided by income and schooling in Ohio, the most coveted Super Tuesday prize in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

With polls showing a virtual tie in Ohio’s March 6 primary, Santorum is trying to build a coalition of lower-income voters, evangelical Christians and Catholics as he seeks to prove he can win a big-state contest and be a viable challenger to President Barack Obama in November, while Romney is working to boost support among more traditional Republicans.

They put their strategies on display this weekend in the Cincinnati area, a Republican stronghold, as Santorum held an event in an old hotel ballroom in a suburb near the edge of the metropolitan area while Romney hosted supporters at an upscale barbecue restaurant in a trendy section of downtown.

Their appeals spoke of a party fractured along economic and educational lines in Ohio, as it is nationally.

Santorum “has the ability to reach out to the common Ohioan, the average Ohioan,” Mike DeWine, the state’s attorney general and a former Romney supporter, told voters at the Santorum event north of Cincinnati.

It’s a strategy that almost worked for Santorum in last week’s Michigan primary, until he was thrown off course by his statements about education, contraception and other issues in a contest that has centered on the nation’s economy, and a hammering from Romney and his allies in television ads.

Second Chance

Ohio offers a second chance for Santorum, whose lead in the state’s polls has slipped as the vote nears, just as his onetime polling advantage eroded in Michigan.

A Quinnipiac University poll released today shows Romney, who won a non-binding straw poll during Washington state’s caucuses over the weekend, leading Santorum in Ohio, 34 percent to 31 percent. The telephone poll surveyed 753 likely Republican primary voters in Ohio and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. A Quinnipiac poll on Feb. 27, had Santorum over Romney by seven percentage points, 36 percent to 29 percent.

Those results follow a NBC/Marist poll released yesterday giving Santorum an edge over Romney, 34 percent to 32 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Santorum Attacks

Santorum unleashed a last round of attacks against Romney today, arguing his rival can’t be trusted on issues central to the party’s cause as the two campaigned in Ohio.

“What you have with Romney is someone who is simply not a genuine article,” Santorum told reporters. “He’s not someone that you can trust on the issue of big government.”

With polls in the state showing momentum heading Romney’s way, the fresh assault was a sign of the Santorum campaign’s growing anxiety that his fortunes are waning.

“I look at this campaign right now,” Romney said today in Ohio, “and I see a lot of folks all talking about lots of things, but what we need to talk about to defeat Barack Obama is getting good jobs and scaling back the size of government -- and that’s what I do.”

While Romney’s campaign wouldn’t predict a win in Ohio or any state on March 6 -- and conceded that he expects to lose in Georgia -- top adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said his candidate will win a majority of delegates at stake on Super Tuesday.

“We’re looking forward to a good day,” he said today as Romney toured the factory floor at Gregory Industries, a guardrail manufacturer in Canton, Ohio. Following Romney endorsements by U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and a nod today from former Attorney General John Ashcroft of Missouri, Fehrnstrom said:“The party has already begun to coalesce behind Mitt Romney, and we expect that we’ll pick up more endorsements after Tuesday.”

Fewer College Graduates

The NBC/Marist poll showed almost two-thirds of likely voters in Ohio -- 62 percent -- aren’t college graduates, compared with Michigan, where exit polling found 49 percent of voters hadn’t finished college. The proportion of likely Ohio voters who consider themselves evangelical Christians is roughly equal to the level seen in Michigan’s exit polling, about 40 percent.

Participants in the NBC/Marist poll were asked who has the best chance of beating Obama in the fall: Romney was named by 53 percent, compared with Santorum at 18 percent. More than half of likely Ohio voters said beating Obama is more important to them than having a candidate who is a “true conservative.”

Romney’s Polling Gains

Nationally, support from conservatives has given Romney the lead among the Republican contenders in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released today. Romney was supported by 38 percent of those surveyed and Santorum by 32 percent; former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas were tied at 13 percent. The telephone poll was conducted Feb. 29-March 3 among 400 Republican primary voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

In the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll in January, Gingrich was the leader with 37 percent, followed by Romney, Santorum and Paul.

Santorum has advantages in Ohio. The former senator is from neighboring Pennsylvania, he routinely speaks of a family history with working-class ties and he’s Catholic.

The Catholic vote in Ohio may be slightly smaller in proportion than in Michigan, where exit polls show 30 percent of primary voters were Catholics and Romney and Santorum did equally well among them. In 2008, Catholics represented 26 percent of the Ohio primary electorate.

In Michigan, Romney won almost half the vote of those making more than $100,000 a year, while Santorum had the stronger showing among those with lower incomes -- he carried about 40 percent of voters earning less than $50,000. Santorum also won a plurality of those who haven’t attended college.

‘Free-Market Dynamics’

At his March 3 Cincinnati event, Romney told several hundred supporters crowded into a heated boathouse outside a restaurant that he wants to restore the “free-market dynamics” that made America a “powerhouse.” Afterwards, he greeted diners in the restaurant and posed for pictures as families enjoyed steak and ribs with their river view.

Earlier in the day, Santorum greeted a crowd mostly dressed in jeans and sweatshirts and without campaign-provided drinks, food or chairs.

As he did in Michigan, Romney will have a more robust get- out-the-vote effort in Ohio, and his campaign and allies have spent heavily on television advertising in the state.

Spending by Romney’s campaign and a political action committee backing him outpaced expenditures on behalf of Santorum by about 10 to 1, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a company that tracks advertising.

Financial Resources

The Romney campaign and Restore Our Future, a super- political action committee that supports him, spent $1.8 million to air ads 3,713 times on Ohio broadcast television through March 1, CMAG reported. The Red White and Blue Fund, a super-PAC backing Santorum, had spent $181,250 to air ads 371 times.

“The disparity and financial resources show up on election day,” said Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University.

Regional Fights

Santorum will appeal to social conservatives in western and southwestern Ohio, including the Cincinnati area, while Romney should do well in the northeast, including Cleveland, where the economy is the overriding issue, said Robert T. Bennett, former Ohio Republican Party chairman. Southeastern Ohio could go either way, while central Ohio around Columbus and a corridor along Interstate Highway 75 will be battleground areas, he said.

Santorum’s campaign made automated phone calls to Democrats before last week’s Michigan primary to urge them to vote for their candidate. There doesn’t yet appear to be a similar effort under way in Ohio, spokesmen for the state political parties said yesterday.

Ohio, like Michigan, allows voters from other parties to cast ballots in the Republican primary. In the 2008 Democratic primary in Ohio, radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh promoted what he called “Operation Chaos” by encouraging Republican voters to cast ballots for Hillary Clinton to prolong the Democratic primary fight with Obama at the time.

Even as both leading candidates focused on Ohio, each traveled to southern states that also hold contests on March 6, the so-called Super Tuesday when more than 400 of the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination are at stake in one day.

With polls in Ohio and Tennessee showing his lead shrinking, Santorum said he plans to remain in the race regardless of whether he wins on Super Tuesday.

“This is a game of survivor,” he told reporters after greeting voters at Corky’s Ribs and BBQ in Memphis. “We’re either first or second in most of the states out there and I think that’s going to be a good Super Tuesday for us.”

To contact the reporters on this story: John McCormick in Miamisburg, Ohio at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net; Mark Niquette in Columbus, Ohio at mniquette@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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