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A share-the-wealth Super Tuesday means no rest for front-runner Romney

Mitt Romney won six of 10 Super Tuesday contests, enough to retain his front-runner status. But his hair-breadth's win in Ohio was not a convincing one, and the next states to vote don't favor him.

By Staff writer / March 7, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at his Super Tuesday primary election night rally in Boston, March 6.

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

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On paper, Mitt Romney won Super Tuesday. The Republican presidential front-runner eked out a nail-biter in the most important primary of the day, Ohio, and won five of the other March 6 contests: Massachusetts, which he once governed, Virginia, Idaho, Vermont, and Alaska.

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Rick Santorum maintained his status as the leading conservative alternative to Mr. Romney, beating him soundly in Tennessee – a state where Romney had hoped to be competitive – and also winning in North Dakota and Oklahoma. Newt Gingrich won the remaining contest, his home state of Georgia.

Romney remains the strong favorite to win the GOP nomination, leading the battle for convention delegates with 415 out of the 1,144 needed, according to the Associated Press. Former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum has 176, former House Speaker Gingrich has 105, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has 47. Those figures include “super delegates,” party leaders who may back whomever they wish.

But Romney’s underwhelming victory in Ohio, where he beat Santorum 38 percent to 37 percent, and nine-point loss to Santorum in Tennessee highlighted his weakness among key parts of the Republican coalition: working-class voters, evangelicals, and those who self-identify as “very conservative.”

Romney’s strong suit remains the perception that he’s best-equipped to beat President Obama in November. But for many Republican voters, that calculation does not translate into enthusiasm.

“ ’Can’t Buy Me Love’ might be the theme song of the Super Tuesday primaries: Mitt Romney prevailed on electability, but in terms of a personal connection with voters’ concerns, it was another matter,” ABC News pollster Gary Langer writes in an analysis of exit polls.

In Ohio, a crucial battleground in November's general election, 51 percent of GOP voters found the wealthy former businessman to be most electable, versus only 24 percent for Santorum. But Santorum, who highlights his family’s working-class roots, beat Romney 34 to 22 percent on the question of which candidate “best understands the problems of average Americans.”

Still, Romney’s slim overall victory in Ohio – combined with his three-point victory in Michigan a week earlier – saved him from the embarrassment of losses in major Midwestern states that would likely have thrown his campaign into a crisis. As it is, Romney vastly outspent his rivals on Super Tuesday, depleting his coffers and leading him to call for donations in his victory speech, as he did last week.

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