Romney takes fight to Santorum in 'rust belt'

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign stop at...

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign stop at American Posts, manufacturer of metal fence posts, in Toledo, Ohio on February 29, 2012. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

BRYN WEESE, Senior Washington Correspondent

, Last Updated: 9:50 PM ET

PONTIAC, Mich. -- Mitt Romney took no time to let his two GOP primary wins Tuesday sink in.

On Wednesday, the erstwhile Republican frontrunner took the fight to his main rival Rick Santorum in the former Pennsylvania senator's backyard -- Ohio -- where the bloodiest battle between the two is likely unfold on March 6, dubbed Super Tuesday, when 10 states hold contests in the Republican nomination race.

Like Michigan, which Romney won in a squeaker Tuesday with 41% support over Santorum's 38%, Ohio is a union-heavy, manufacturing-based so-called rust belt state that also has suffered a lot of lost jobs.

Romney also won Arizona easily, besting the second place Santorum by 20 points.

"I want to go to work for the American worker," Romney said at a rally Wednesday in Toledo, Ohio. "I want to make sure that we see good jobs again, rising incomes again. And I don't want to pass our burdens on to the next generation with bigger and bigger debt, and bigger and bigger government.

"For me, this is all about more jobs, less debt and smaller government -- that's what I know how."

Santorum, too, was also expected to hit the ground running following his close finish in Michigan. He was campaigning in Tennessee Wednesday and crowed about his successes in the Wolverine State despite winning silver.

Because of the way Michigan awards its delegates -- two to the winner of each of the state's congressional districts -- Santorum could end up with more delegates than Romney, even though the latter garnered more votes.

As of Wednesday afternoon, they each had 13 delegates of 30 that were up for grabs in the state.

"We had a much better night in Michigan than maybe was first reported. This was a really great race to go into, in a sense, the belly of the beast, the hometown of my chief rival here in the Republican primary," he said Wednesday.

Reportedly, Santorum was going to focus more attention on his economic message, given he was rattled by his own missteps over social conservative issues for the past week that may have cost him Michigan.

And whereas Michigan was a must win for local boy Romney, Ohio is fast becoming a must-win state for Santorum.

He is currently leading there in a recent University of Cincinnati poll by 11 points, but it was conducted before Romney went two-for-two Tuesday. Also, Romney crawled back from an even larger gap in favour of Santorum here just a week ago, so Santorum's lead in the Buckeye State is anything but safe.

The same poll that puts Santorum ahead in Ohio also found nearly 50% of likely GOP primary voters there could change their minds, likely justifying the ad war that is about to unfold in Ohio ahead of Super Tuesday.

Next week, the biggest prizes on Super Tuesday are Georgia, Virginia and Ohio. While Newt Gingrich is expected to win Georgia, his home state, Romney is expected to win Virginia since only he and libertarian-leaning Ron Paul are on the ballot there.

Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, Vermont, North Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma are also holding votes, and in total more than 400 delegates are up for grabs.

The eventual Republican winner will need 1,144 delegates to secure the party's nomination to face President Barack Obama in November's election.

bryn.weese@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos