In Ohio suburbs, a reluctant vote of confidence for Mitt Romney

The Ohio primary Tuesday could be a bellwether for the rest of the Republican primary campaign. If so, it gives a glimpse of who is supporting Mitt Romney – and why they're not excited. 

Gerald Herbert/AP
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally at Gregory Industries in Canton, Ohio, Monday.

In this quintessential American community, where church steeples and white picket fences neatly line the landscape, many Republicans say they're not choosing a presidential nominee based on candidates' convictions or policy proposals. Instead, they say, they'll vote for the candidate they feel is best suited to accomplish one task in November: topple President Obama.

“Yeah, I voted for [Mitt] Romney,” sighs Roberta, a receptionist who gave only her first name. The decision tormented her for months, and she remained undecided even when entering the voting booth at the local high school Tuesday. “My heart is really with [Rick] Santorum, but I really don’t think he can win [against Obama]. It’s a shame.”

The Ohio primary Tuesday is seen as a key bellwether in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, not so much because of its 66 delegates, but because Ohio is a microcosm for the rest of the country. What happens here could be predictive of how the race will play out going forward.

“Every part of the national economy is found here in some significant way: agriculture to industry to low tech to high tech, from rural to industrial to urban – it’s all here,” says James Brock, an economist at Miami University’s Farmer School of Business in Oxford, Ohio.

Generally speaking, the northern half of the state swings for Democrats, while southern half leans Republican. But even within those broad strokes are other subdivisions that could determine how Tuesday's primary plays out. 

To Republican voters, Mr. Romney "plays better in suburban Ohio than rural Ohio, and vice versa for Santorum,” says Justin Vaughn, a political scientist at Cleveland State University.

Populism and social issues – the hallmarks of Mr. Santorum’s campaign – resonate with voters far afield of major cities, while the economy and job creation – issues Romney hits hardest – are tailored for urban areas and suburban communities surrounding them.

To Austin Morrow of Chagrin Falls, Santorum is the “theoretical” best choice to beat Obama and Romney is the most “realistic.”

“He’s been an entrepreneur and has created jobs. Ohio needs that,” Mr. Morrow says of Romney.

In Shaker Heights, a traditional stronghold for Democrats east of Cleveland, Muriel Weber says she would have voted for any of the Republican contenders, but worries that if Santorum ended up in a national campaign against Obama, “all you’re going to hear for six months is birth control, abortion, and social issues.”

She worries that those will not be winning issues when the nation is struggling to recover from a recession.

She voted for Romney.

But John, a voter who declined to give his last name and also voted in Shaker Heights, says he decided at the last moment to send a message with his vote. Even though he knows Santorum won’t win, John voted for him anyway. He wants Romney to work harder to convince his fellow Republicans he understands middle-class hardships, especially the continuing foreclosure crisis.

“The sooner Romney locks this up, the sooner the dialogue ends, and I think it’s important that the dialogue continues, because I don’t think [Romney] gets it,” he says. 


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