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Super Tuesday: Mitt Romney woos blue-collar voters in Ohio

Mitt Romney is locked in a tight GOP primary battle with Rick Santorum for Ohio, perhaps the biggest prize on Super Tuesday. On Monday he campaigned in blue-collar Youngstown.

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In the battle for Ohio’s 66 delegates, Romney already edges Santorum because of an organizational error: Santorum will not be in the ballot in three congressional districts and failed to file a full list of delegates in six other districts, making him ineligible for a third of the state’s delegates.

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Both candidates crisscrossed the state Monday, talking with Ohioans in rustbelt communities where unemployment rates in some equal or are above state and national averages. In Youngstown, for example, unemployment hit 8.2 percent in December, slightly higher than the state rate but just below the national rate of 8.5 percent.

Many at the Romney town hall ceded that the economy trumped all other concerns.

“Job creation. Nothing more important than the jobs,” says Robert Saffold, a former steel worker and now an advocate for minority-owned small businesses in his state. Mr. Saffold drove from Cleveland to hear Romney speak; he says he is still undecided but will “probably” give Romney his vote because the former governor “has the best chance to make [President] Obama talk more about jobs” in the national debate.

Despite the assembly of Republicans – one woman, holding up Romney’s book, told its author she “makes no apology for being a Republican” in the area – Youngstown remains stoutly Democratic, having given two-thirds of the vote to Obama and Sen. John Kerry in the last two presidential elections. The national ties to the party are tight – last year, Obama appointed Jay Williams, Youngstown’s last mayor, to head the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers.

Romney, however, appears to be leaving no stone unturned in his battle with Santorum, and there were signs Monday that some voters no longer feel they owe an allegiance to either party, with some echoing Romney’s remark that Obama “hasn’t, in three years, proposed any serious solutions” to fix the troubled economy.

Michele Bolchalk, a registered nurse from nearby Warren, says she is a life-long Democrat who plans to vote Republican for the first time in her life this year. She says her family is straining to make ends meet and is dismayed at the rising national debt she says illustrates reckless spending by the administration.

Romney’s appearance at Taylor Winfield Technologies, a plant that manufactures automated assembly systems, convinced Mike Warner, a worker at the plant for 33 years, that the former governor deserves a try to reignite the economy.

“In the last three years, things have slowly gone downhill, and I think it’s time for a change to see if [Romney] can get things back on its feet,” Mr. Warner says.

Denise Leone of Youngstown, a retired plant worker who describes herself as a “blue collar Christian,” says that her vote will go to Romney solely on the fact that he appears more winnable than the other Republican contenders for president.

“I like them all, but we need someone in there who will beat Obama, and Romney has the best chance,” Ms. Leone says.

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