CINCINNATI — Republican presidential campaigning in Ohio is starting to warm up after months of little activity, while polls have indicated a volatile race.
Ohio, with 66 delegates at stake, offers the second-most behind Georgia among 10 states with a primary or caucus on March 6, dubbed “Super Tuesday.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is booked for a county Republican Party’s Feb.16 dinner in suburban Cleveland, while former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is speaking Feb. 18 at the Ohio Christian Alliance in Columbus and to the county GOP in Akron. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul also will compete for Ohio delegates.
Polls in recent months have shown Romney and Gingrich seesawing for the lead in Ohio, with Santorum making a charge. Paul has consistently trailed, but has a loyal base of supporters across the state.
Miami University political science professor Philip Russo sees Ohio as “a big prize” and key test for those trying to become the nominee against Democrat Barack Obama, who carried the swing state in 2008 after George W. Bush carried it twice.
Besides the delegates, “Ohio is also a microcosm of national politics — the economic issues facing Ohioans, high unemployment, the polarization between parties, as well as infighting among the parties. We’ve got it all here right now,” Russo said.
Gingrich supporter Chris Lowe is looking forward to seeing the candidates focus on Ohio. The 28-year-old Gallipolis resident thinks Gingrich has a clear message and likes his background with the Contract With America, the policy agenda he pushed through Congress in his first 100 days as House speaker in the 1990s.
“I hope to see more campaigning, more signs, more involving Ohio in the discussions,” said Lowe, who has been connecting with other Gingrich supporters in the state through social media.
Georgia, where Gingrich built his congressional career, and its neighbor Tennessee also vote March 6, as he tries to rebound from Romney’s lopsided victory in Florida and what’s expected to be a rough string of February contests.
Russo thinks Ohio is particularly important for Romney, who grew up in neighboring Michigan where his late father was governor. Romney also got an early endorsement from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, one of the state’s three leading Republican officeholders.
Portman said Romney’s Florida victory shows he has the diverse appeal to reach independents and other swing voters who will decide states such as Ohio in November.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio is remaining neutral, while Republican Gov. John Kasich said this week he doesn’t have any plans at this point to make an endorsement.
“Just get a nominee, and hopefully they’ll have good plans for job creation, plain and simple,” Kasich told The Associated Press.
Early voting in Ohio began this week.