Romney, Santorum split Super Tuesday victories

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Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum shared victories in yesterday's Super Tuesday contests, dueling in Ohio with a virtual tie of 37% each. No Republican has ever won the White House without securing a victory in Ohio. (Courtesy of the Associated Press)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney split six states and dueled in an almost impossibly close race in Ohio on a Super Tuesday that stretched from one end of the country to the other in the most turbulent Republican presidential race in a generation.

A resurgent Santorum broke through in primaries in Oklahoma and Tennessee and in the North Dakota caucuses, raising fresh doubts about Romney’s ability to corral the votes of conservatives in some of the most Republican states in the country.

Romney had a home-state win in Massachusetts to go with victories in Vermont and in Virginia, where neither Santorum nor Newt Gingrich qualified for the ballot. He also led in early Idaho caucus returns and padded his lead for delegates to the Republican National Convention.

On the busiest night of the campaign season, Ohio was the marquee matchup, a second industrial state showdown in as many weeks between Romney and Santorum. It drew the most campaigning and television advertisements of all 10 Super Tuesday contests and for good reason— no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying the state in the fall.

After trailing for much of the night, Romney forged ahead in a count that stretched toward midnight. With votes tallied in 91 percent of the state’s precincts, he led by about 5,000 votes out of 1.1 million cast.

Gingrich had a victory in his column — his first win in more than six weeks. The former House speaker triumphed at home in Georgia, but a barrage of attack ads by a super PAC supporting Romney helped hold him below 50 percent and forced him to share the delegates.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul pinned his hopes on Idaho and Alaska as he scratched for his first victory of the campaign season. As of print deadline, results in Alaska had not been called.

Whatever the outcome in Ohio, Romney was on track to pad his lead in the hunt for delegates to the Republican National Convention. Not surprisingly, given his mixed night, he focused on the delegate chase.

Yet Santorum’s multiple victories, coupled with Gingrich’s win, provided fresh evidence that Romney’s conservative rivals retain the ability to outpoll him in certain parts of the country despite his huge organizational and financial advantages.

In Ohio, Romney’s campaign purchased about $1.5 million for television advertisements, and Restore Our Future spent $2.3 million. Santorum and Red, White and Blue, a super PAC that supports him, countered with about $1 million combined, a disadvantage of nearly four to one.

While the day boasted more primaries and caucuses than any other in 2012, it was a shadow of Super Tuesday in 2008, when there were 20 Republican contests.

There was another big difference, a trend away from winner-take-all contests to a system of allocating delegates in rough proportion to a candidate’s share of the popular vote.

Sen. John McCain won eight states on Super Tuesday in 2008 and lost 12 to Romney and Mike Huckabee combined. But six of McCain’s victories were winner-take-all primaries, allowing him to build an insurmountable delegate lead that all but sealed his nomination.