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Ohio looms large on Super Tuesday. Can Romney increase his delegate lead?

A win in Ohio on Super Tuesday could restore Mitt Romney's clear front-runner status. But senior Republicans are decrying the toxic nature of the campaign, and some prominent conservative commentators doubt that either Romney or Rick Santorum could beat Barack Obama.

By Staff writer / March 3, 2012

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greets audience members at a campaign rally at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio Friday March 2, 2012.

Brian Snyder/Reuters

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Among the 10 states holding presidential primary elections or caucuses this coming “Super Tuesday,” Ohio may be the biggest enchilada. It’s a genuine swing state, and the economy – Mitt Romney’s claimed area of presidential expertise – has been hit hard there.

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Having won Michigan and Arizona this week, Romney reclaims front-runnerhood. Bagging Ohio could revive his “inevitable” status, some Republican insiders are saying.

“If he does [win Ohio], it’s over,” GOP strategist Ed Rollins told the Washington Post. “All that’s left is convention speeches and the balloon drop.”

Well, maybe.

Newt Gingrich is going for broke in Georgia (which actually awards ten more delegates than Ohio), the state he represented in Congress. Rick Santorum looks very strong in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

If Santorum wins those two states, and if he squeaks a win in Ohio, the day definitely will be his and Romney’s status will revert to shaky.

It well could happen. On Monday, the independent Quinnipiac University poll had Santorum ahead of Romney in Ohio 36-29 percent among likely Republican voters. Another Ohio poll out the same day, this one conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, had Santorum ahead by 11 points (37-26).

By Friday, Santorum’s lead had shrunk to 35-31(within the margin of polling error), according to Quinnipiac, leaving the race for votes there virtually tied.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato’s online “Crystal Ball” gives it to Romney “quite narrowly.”

RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about Mitt Romney? A quiz.

But Romney has problems there, maybe big problems. The auto industry is a big part of Ohio’s industrial economy, much of it unionized. As everybody knows, Romney opposed the government bailout of the auto industry, and he also backed Ohio Gov. John Kasich’ s effort to restrict public unions’ collective-bargaining rights – which failed by a large margin as a ballot measure.

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