ATLANTA, Ga.--A little before midnight, in the part of CNN's Election Center dubbed "The Cube," Mark Preston, the network's political director, warned Anderson Cooper that while they would be on the air until 2 a.m., they still might not have enough evidence to declare a winner in Ohio.
By 12:30 a.m., CNN--like many other outlets--called Ohio for Mitt Romney.
The giddiness that infused the cable network's Super Tuesday coverage earlier in the evening was replaced by fatigue. Wolf Blitzer had been standing for roughly nine hours. (He sat down briefly during one commercial break.) John King used the Magic Wall so much, I wouldn't be surprised if his fingers were chafed.
"Super Tuesday's is now a Super Wednesday," Cooper said. "A nail-biter in Ohio ... Ohio kept us all us up pretty late."
Blitzer told viewers that Sarah Palin had tweeted that she had voted for Newt Gingrich.
At 1:00 a.m., they were still awaiting results from Alaska, and still live on the air.
"I learned tonight that this is going to go on and on and on," Blitzer said.
-- Dylan Stableford, 1:06 a.m. EST
Santorum pumps iron before pumping up supporters
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- Before taking the stage at his Super Tuesday rally in a high school gymnasium here Tuesday, Rick Santorum spent a few minutes in the school's exercise room doing reps on a weight machine.
"I just came from our war room, which doubles as the weight room for the high school," Santorum told hundreds of screaming supporters. "I was pumping a little iron to get myself psyched before coming out here."
Before Santorum entered the gym, a jumbo screen next to the stage showed Newt Gingrich giving his own victory speech from Atlanta while the music speakers in the Ohio gym blasted "The Devil Came Down to Georgia." (A campaign aide said it was unintentional because they use the music service Pandora, which plays random songs, but they were happy to let it play on.)
Through the night, Santorum's supporters watched as their candidate won three states: Oklahoma, Tennessee, North Dakota, and cheered every time new numbers were released in Ohio showing Santorum ahead of Romney. One woman waved her Terrible Towel, the yellow rag ubiquitous at Pittsburgh Steelers games.
On stage, Santorum stood with his wife, most of their children and his 93-year-0ld mother, Kay.
"This was a big night tonight, lots of states," he said. "We're going to win a few, we're going to lose a few, but as it looks right now, we're going to get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole passel full of silver medals."
Throughout his speech, he was interrupted with chants of "Rick! Rick! Rick! Rick! Rick! Rick! Rick! Rick!"
As the audience howled, Kay began to falter.
"Get this woman a chair!" tweeted The Hill newspaper's Keith Laing.
But she remained standing, as her son went on for 20 minutes.
"Tonight, it's clear. It's clear," Santorum said. "We've won races all over this country against the odds. When they thought, oh, OK, he's finally finished, we keep coming back."
When he was through, two handlers held Kay's arms and walked her around behind the stage.
Santorum hopped down and worked the rope line, before ducking into a conference room with his staff to watch the final results of the race.
-- Chris Moody, 12:o0 a.m. EST
Ohio election remains tight, preventing Romney from becoming the clear nominee
BOSTON, Mass.—As soon as Mitt Romney concluded his remarks here at his election rally, his advisers, who usually stick around to spin the press, literally vanished from the room.
It was a sign of how close the election remains in Ohio, arguably Super Tuesday's biggest prize, and a state where the Romney campaign had been confident enough to scrap a tentatively planned event this morning near Columbus.
Yet long before the polls closed tonight in Ohio and in the nine other Super Tuesday states, the campaign was already spinning tonight's results, emphasizing the delegate race over straight-up popular vote wins around the country.
In Ohio, Romney advisers were quick to cast their boss as a comeback kid, admitting that he might not emerge on top in the state because of Rick Santorum's edge among early voters, but emphasizing that Romney had the momentum in the campaign's final days.
Yet a win is a win—and Romney's aides have started to acknowledge that even if their man ultimately ends up the nominee, the primary will be a drawn out and bloody affair.
Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane in Columbus this afternoon before departing for Boston, Romney talked about how happy he was to spend the night in his own bed for the first time in two months, emphasizing how "long" the journey had been so far.
It was hardly the position Romney and his aides imagined they would be in on Super Tuesday—a date that has frequently determined the GOP nominee or at least winnowed the field. In his remarks tonight, Romney delivered essentially the same speech he would have delivered had he swept every state tonight—remarks heavy on contrast with President Obama.
"There will be good days and bad days, always long hours and never enough time," Romney declared at one point.
The candidate was speaking about the country's efforts to turn around the economy and create jobs. But he could have been talking about his own campaign.
--Holly Bailey, 11 p.m. EST
Santorum takes Nashville to little fanfare
NASHVILLE, Tenn.--A small and subdued crowd of Republicans in Nashville's Union Station Hotel watched as TVs blasting Fox News announced Rick Santorum won the state. No one at the party, thrown by local conservative radio personality Steve Gill, cheered.
J.J. Holloway, second vice chair of the Davidson County Republican Assembly, which endorsed Santorum, said he was surprised there were only 30 or so people gathered. He said the same watch party in 2010 attracted many more people. "It was packed in here," he said. Holloway voted for Santorum, but said he's "not exactly ecstatic about our field."
Cynthia Holloway, a property manager and J.J.'s wife, said she was happy the senator won. "I know people are wary of social issues but as a conservative, it holds weight."
Bob Cole, a Nashville hotel maintenance engineer, said he was surprised Santorum won. "I didn't know anybody who supported him. I held my nose and voted for Mitt."
--Liz Goodwin, 10:30 p.m. EST
Scenes inside CNN: A Palin get on the campaign trail
ATLANTA, Ga.--"Wolf, you're not gonna believe who we have," a producer in the control room of CNN's Election Center said here during a commercial break while the network's Super Tuesday coverage continued deep into the night.
Forty-five seconds later, Sarah Palin, the former Alaskan governor, Republican vice presidential candidate and--oh yeah--paid Fox News contributor, appeared in an interview with CNN's Paul Vercammen from Wasilla, Alaska. In a CNN exclusive get, the reporter nabbed her as she headed into a caucus site.
"We thought we weren't going to get busted walking through here today, and here you are," Palin said. The control room erupted in laughter.
Palin said she wouldn't rule out a run for president in 2016--"[I] would seriously consider anything I can do to help our country"--and wouldn't close the door on entering the race in a brokered convention. "Anything is possible and I don't close any doors that would perhaps be open out there," Palin said. "My plan is to be at that convention." The "EXCLUSIVE" tag glowed on the screen. Palin and Wasilla began trending on Twitter.
"You're a lucky dude," Palin told Vercammen as she turned away to rejoin her husband Todd. The CNN control room roared. "Guess who showed up in Wasilla to vote?" CNN's Candy Crowley crowed on Twitter. "Guess who just happen[ed] to have reporter/camera there?"
Sam Feist, CNN's Washington bureau chief and senior vice president, turned around to tell me more: "Resources," he said. "We had no idea she would be there. We just thought it would be a good caucus site."
Blitzer dubbed Vercammen the network's resident "lucky dude." CNN's panel discussed Palin on the air. "Sarah Palin just lights up the screen," CNN's Paul Begala noted. When David Gergen tried to downplay Palin's political potency and effectively end the Palin discussion, Anderson Cooper jumped in: "We have six [more] hours to fill ... When is the next time she will be on our air? We have to make the most of it."
--Dylan Stableford, 9:30 p.m. EST
(Rachel Hartman/Yahoo News)
As she overheard Yahoo News speaking with her sister Reva Jennings (who serves as the former House Speaker's 9th District chairwoman) Little pulled a faded newspaper clipping from her purse. The image, preserved in a clear plastic holder, was of Little standing beside the then-Speaker in 1995 when she worked for him.
"My heart thumps, thumps, thumps. I'm just so excited I can't stand it," Little said. "I want Newt to be president so bad."
Jennings and her sister were among the many Gingrich supporters here in Georgia Tuesday who've been fans since he first ran for Congress in 1974 (unsuccessfully). Jennings remarked that she's known Gingrich's regional political director Kevin Harris since he was "a little boy," she said, lowering her hand to the carpeted floor here at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel.
Jennings said that back when Gingrich was running for Congress, legend has it that his supporters would bring dark socks to his events to enable the white-sock wearing professor to make an outfit change. "They would make him take those white ones off," she said.
Jennings has her own slogan for Gingrich: "Newt can because he has." She said that not only did he make Republicans the majority party, he balanced the budget while in office, is the most intelligent candidate in the race and "can bring America back."
"We're just so proud to know him," Jennings said. "We've been following him. We helped him get elected to Congress."
--Rachel Rose Hartman
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio--Six dedicated Pennsylvanians who crossed the Ohio River to rally for Rick Santorum on Super Tuesday huddled together outside a polling place here as the setting sun sent a rush of cold air onto the small border town.
"Thank you for coming in today," they told voters who walked into the polling place, a nondescript building owned by a local catering company. Steubenville is about an hour from Pittsburgh. Santorum plans to hold his election night rally there later tonight.
"Us Rust Belt states all stick together," said Tammy Drumheller, who drove in from Pittsburgh early this morning and spent the day directing people from the main road and waving a Santorum sign.
Over the course of an hour, a steady stream of both Romney and Santorum supporters walked in the doors. The key difference between the two was sheer enthusiasm. All of the Romney supporters said they were voting for him "because he can beat Obama," but few were willing to say specifically why they liked him.
"I liked his father many years ago," said one man wearing a red Buckeyes cap and matching shirt who voted for George Romney when he ran for president in 1964. "It's just that Romney comes across stronger than Santorum does."
His comment, and others like it, was in stark contrast to Santorum supporters who delivered an earful to anyone who asked about their candidate.
"He adheres to good old fashioned moral ethical values," said Charlie Conn, a former supporter of Michele Bachmann from Steubenville. "He embraces the kind of values that I embrace. I'm all for it, I think that's what we need to get back to."
"He's pro-life, he's got the values I have," said Santorum supporter Maria Shively.
In all of the interviews, there also wasn't a single mention of Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich.
"What about Paul?" I asked Shively.
"I don't know. I guess if I was into, you know ..." she said, motioning like she was taking a puff from a joint.
Harry Toma, a Santorum supporter decked from head to toe in Pittsburgh Steelers gear--No, literally: Yellow cap, Steeler's jacket, black and yellow sweat pants and even Steelers crocks--arrived with Romney backer Mildred Ostovich.
"Why do you like Romney?" I asked Ostovich.
"Because I don't like the other one," she replied, referring to Santorum.
Late in the afternoon, one woman entering the precinct said that even though she would vote in 30 seconds, she still hadn't made up her mind.
"But you'll be there in 20 steps," I said.
"I know!" she said. "And I'll figure it out when I get in there."
--Chris Moody, 9:00 p.m. EST
In Ohio, Santorum and Romney battle in a tight race
CENTERVILLE, Ohio--If Mitt Romney wins Ohio tonight, it will be because of voters like those who cast their ballots here at the South Dayton Presbyterian Church. Yes, moderate Republicans do exist outside of New England—and I found a few in this upscale suburb voting for Romney. As a middle-aged engineer named James, wearing an Ohio Buckeyes sweatshirt, put it, "I've been following Romney since he was Massachusetts governor. I know he has been attacked for health care. But you need something like that for the poor. Just not as far as Obama went."
I have made a polling-place tour of the three leading media markets in the southern half of Ohio (Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton). And the results fit the social-class divide like a glove: Rick Santorum scored best among lower-middle-class and middle-class voters while Romney swept upscale Republicans. More than in other primaries, I heard repeated praise for Romney's business background here in Ohio--and his moderation. Ann, a law student at the University of Dayton, explained her Romney support saying, "I think we need a moderate. And we need someone who can beat Obama."
I was conducting an impressionistic exit poll—and my numbers, of course, will be outmoded as soon as the actual Ohio returns light up the TV screens. Here in Centerville where two precincts vote at the Presbyterian Church, the count was Romney 14, Rick Santorum 7 and Newt Gingrich 2. And—bulletin—I found my first Ron Paul voter in my tour of Ohio. When I asked him why he was voting for Paul, he replied succinctly, "His monetary policy," before he got into his Lexus and drove away.
My final count from three distinct locations suggests that this may be a long night in Ohio: Santorum 37, Romney 34, Gingrich 8 and, yes, Paul 1. But if Romney wins in Ohio tonight — and again seems like a prohibitive favorite for the nomination—at least one Ohio woman's dreams will be dashed. Jennifer, a Santorum voter wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt, explained that she picked her candidate as part of a larger strategy. "I want the Republican race to last longer," she said. "I want all the candidates to be fully vetted. I want it to shake out, so we won't have any surprises in the fall campaign against Obama."
--Walter Shapiro, 7:45 p.m. EST
Dispatches from CNN's control room: how the network preserves its neutrality
ATLANTA, Ga.--"CNN is the only cable news channel that has not picked sides in this election," said Sam Feist, CNN's Washington bureau chief and senior vice president. Feist was sitting in the control room of CNN's Election Center here, a few hours before the network's Super Tuesday coverage was scheduled to begin in earnest. "MSNBC has been openly advocating the reelection of Barack Obama. Fox News has been openly advocating against it. That's their business model."
In slack news periods, when hot partisan bluster fills the airwaves and attracts viewers, CNN's cool down-the-middle approach has often led it to trail Fox and MSNBC in the ratings. (CNN, though, beat MSNBC among 25-to-54-year-olds in January and February, according to Nielsen). But on election nights like this one, it gives the network an edge. Feist a 20-year veteran of the network, wears the mantle of objectivity like a badge of honor. "We take that position because we can say, 'Mitt Romney had a bad night.' Our credibility is absolutely essential to give us the ability to say it," he said.
CNN's coverage will feature analysts, pundits, and political pros from both sides of the aisle who wear their partisanship on their tailored sleeves. But viewers won't feel as if the main anchors are taking sides. Feist--who slightly resembles a young Lenny Dykstra—was watching Wolf Blitzer anchor a Super Tuesday edition of "The Situation Room.""I've known Wolf for 24 years--I know him as well as anyone in his family--and I have no idea if he is a Democrat or Republican," Feist said. "As a CNN employee, I'm not allowed to donate money to a candidate--I can't even tell you who I voted for."
Rival ideologies aside, Feist is also bullish about CNN's deep election night bench, seemingly all of which has been deployed--on the field and in the studio--for the network's swarming coverage of Super Tuesday. More than 30 anchors, correspondents and pundits will contribute to CNN's broadcast Tuesday night.
"CNN will invest more resources than anybody to this campaign," Feist said, pointing to a screen showing eight reporters stationed from Alaska to Massachusetts, waiting for their stand-ups. "Nobody else is doing this."
And just as it has done in previous primaries, CNN does not plan to wait until the Associated Press reports results before going on air with election news. "We have someone in Idaho reporting from the caucus, talking to Republican officials, telling us what they know, what the results are," Feist said. He dismissed critics who say CNN's aggressiveness crosses an ethical line, given the confusion caused by networks while calling the 2000 presidential election. "That's just journalism."
--Dylan Stableford, 7:25 p.m. EST
In Ohio, Romney finds reason to be optimistic
GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio — With temperatures suddenly jumping into the 50s with a radiant blue sky, the Cincinnati area weather proclaimed, "Today, there are no excuses for not voting." But waiting to interview voters outside Saint Antoninus Church -- where three precincts in this heavily Republican area vote -- I had ample time to contemplate the first buds on a magnolia tree.
This should be Rick Santorum territory: socially conservative and devoutly Catholic, a neighborhood of tidy one-story brick homes with meticulously maintained front lawns. And the former Pennsylvania senator did have a small edge in my unscientific exit poll, which I conducted for 90 minutes during the lunch hour. But mostly what came through was the languid pace of the voting (and this in a neighborhood where virtually everyone requests the Republican ballot), which election workers said had been occurring all day. For every Santorum backer who used words like "values" to explain his or her vote, there was another who invoked resigned rationales like "lesser of two evils." Or as Melinda, a self-described "homemaker" wearing jeans, put it, "I actually don't know why I voted for Santorum. I guess it's because he's an underdog and I like voting for underdogs."
Mitt Romney, as the favorite for the nomination, has delivered his message to Ohio Republicans, whether they are backing him or not.
Paula Goller, a retired paralegal, explained her Romney vote by unconsciously conjuring up the campaign talking points of Mr. Bain Capital. "I don't want a politician," Goller said. "I want a businessman who can shake things up in Washington." Similarly, a middle-aged woman, an administrative assistant who did not want to be quoted by name, said, "Romney's the only outsider. He's never been a senator, even though he was a governor. But mostly he's a businessman."
My count at Saint Antoninus -- where voters have to descend a steep flight of stairs to the Father Goeckeler Undercroft to cast their ballots — was Santorum 14, Romney 11 and Newt Gingrich 3. Combined with my morning interviews in Grove City, just outside Columbus, the running tally is Santorum 30, Romney 20 and Newt Gingrich 6. As for Ron Paul, I have yet to find an Ohio voter backing him during my polling place visits. That is not considered a hopeful omen for tonight's returns.
I should stress that all these numbers are offered for entertainment value only. This is not anything like an official exit poll. It is just my effort to try to convey the mood of Super Tuesday in Ohio by talking to voters in hopes that I can pick up a trend. The alternative — as journalistic veterans of primary days can testify — is sitting in a hotel room playing Angry Birds on an iPad waiting for the first announcement of exit poll results. Personally, I'll take conversations with real voters any day over replaying the age-old battle between birds and pigs.
--Walter Shapiro, 4:15 p.m. EST
Romney address the press corps on the plane
Heading home, a relaxed Romney looks forward to 'a late night'
COLUMBUS, Ohio—Before his flight to Boston, where he'll hold his Super Tuesday rally tonight, Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, wandered to the back of his campaign plane to chat with reporters.
The former Massachusetts governor, who wore a crisp white dress shirt and a bright blue tie decorated with flowers, was in a relaxed mood, smiling and laughing easily with the press corps who have chased him across the country for weeks.
The candidate said he was feeling good about Super Tuesday—but admitted he was most thrilled about the fact he would get to spend the night at home tonight, the first time he's had that luxury since Jan. 6.
"I'm looking forward to being home, sleeping in our own bed tonight," Romney said. "It will be a late night most likely."
"This has been a long one," the candidate added, referring to the campaign. "But for you guys it's been the same thing."
As voters across 10 states head to the polls today, Romney said he had no special rituals he was practicing and that he held no specific superstitions about Election Day. His only plan, beyond monitoring election returns, was having dinner at his son Tagg's home in Boston.
"They've cooked us some Marsala chicken and asparagus and mashed potatoes," Romney said. Asked if he would like the press corps to accompany him to dinner, Romney paused, grinned and responded with a loud "heh heh heh."
--Holly Bailey, 4:05 p.m. EST
No chaos - and little activity - at Gingrich home state headquarters
Staff at Gingrich headquarters
ATLANTA, Ga.-- On Election Day, a campaign headquarters is typically steeped in total chaos.
Staffers have usually been up all night, appearing haggard and caffeinated. Pizza boxes, donuts and coffee cups litter the tables and every available phone has an exhausted volunteer attached to it. Supporters come and go with signs and supplies.
But here at Newt Gingrich's Atlanta headquarters Tuesday afternoon it was nearly silent. There were no signs of chaos in the Gingrich campaign's office suite when Yahoo News dropped by.
About ten volunteers sat calmly by their phones in front of their own computers, not a speck of detritus from the night before littering their desks. It was quiet. It was calm. It was… odd.
So where was everyone? Gingrich's Georgia Director of Operations said supporters were busy out in the field on Tuesday-- at polling places, at major intersections waving signs, and at three other call centers the campaign is running in the state in Warner Robins, Cobb County and Augusta.
Here, the office opened at 9 a.m. ET where this handful of volunteers worked steadily in between breaks and offers of treats to keep them going until 7 p.m. tonight.
"I'm calling to remind you to vote today in the primary and offer your support for Newt Gingrich," one volunteer was overheard saying into his phone.
The relative quiet at the Atlanta office was no indication of excitement or support, those running the show told Yahoo News. "At an event last week we signed up 360 volunteers," Kevin Harris, Gingrich's regional political director said.
The office was already preparing for tonight's rally where they hope to receive word of Gingrich's state win shortly after the polls close.
The mood in the office? "Excited about tonight," said Sonya Harrison, Director of Georgia Operations.
--Rachel Rose Hartman, 3:11 p.m. EST
For CNN, Super Tuesday is the first big night of 2012
ATLANTA, Ga.--John King strolled into the lobby of the CNN Center--essentially a giant mall-like food court covered in CNN logos--at 11:30 ET here, briefcase and paper in hand. He headed to the Starbucks hut, across the hall from a Hummer ("CNN Warrior One"), a memento salvaged from the Iraq war. (The keepsake was recovered, auctioned off for charity and then donated back to CNN by the auction winner. It now serves as an easy landmark for meeting people in the sprawling headquarters.) One of his assistants placed an order--for two coffee carts. It's a necessary supplement since the Starbucks at the CNN Center closes at 8:45, and everyone here is bracing for a long night. "I'm betting we're going to go 'til 2 tonight," Wolf Blitzer told me on his way into the CNN Election Center on the seventh floor, where he was preparing to co-anchor the cable network's coverage of President Obama's 1:00 p.m. press conference.
Blitzer, who had just hosted a Super Tuesday Web roundtable (with Gloria Borger, Jessica Yellin, Ari Fleischer, Peter Hamby and Donna Brazile all appearing via remote webcams), clutched a newspaper. "You know what one of these is, right?" Blitzer joked to me as we road in the elevator. (Blitzer, it's worth noting, still wears a BlackBerry on his belt.)
Super Tuesday is to CNN what the Super Bowl--or perhaps, more accurately, LeBron James' "Decision"--is to ESPN. There's a palpable giddiness at the mothership on primary day. And the countdown clock embedded in the chyron only fuels the high stakes nature of the day. "It's like a sporting event," Kate Lunger, senior executive producer of CNN special events, said in an interview earlier in the day. "You just care that it's a good game, and that it's interesting."
CNN treats its primary coverage like other big events, including the conventions, the Royal Wedding and death of the pope. "As much as you hate to think like that," Lunger said, "you have to plan when world leaders die."
For Super Tuesday, that meant a dry run on Sunday and another rehearsal Monday night. "We were here 'til 11," she said about Monday. But, beyond Tuesday, Lunger isn't sure. "We anticipate we'll be covering the upcoming primaries," she said. "We just don't know to what extent."
-- Dylan Stableford, 2:00 p.m. EST
In Ohio, a Republican's pessimistic outlook
ASHLAND, Ohio--Judy Echelberger has made big cuts in her personal life since the customers to her pet-grooming business in this central Ohio town, once a manufacturing hub, started to dwindle. Echelberger is pessimistic about the chances of the Republican nominee to defeat President Barack Obama. She listens to talk radio all day to stay up on the news.
"I don't buy things like I used to," she said. "Don't go anywhere. Just kind of watch my pennies."
--Miki Meek and Bob Sacha, 1:19 p.m. EST
At a Georgia breakfast meeting, Ginrich makes his pitch
Gingrich (Rachel Rose Hartman/Yahoo News)
DULUTH, Ga.— Dave Walker showed up at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning ready to compare presidential candidate Gingrich to Georgia congressman Gingrich. The last time Walker heard Gingrich speak was 20 years ago, when the congressman was Speaker of the House.
"I'm interested to see how he relates to the audience as compared to then," Walker said as he sat at a round dining table on which a hot breakfast was being laid out.
About 200 chamber members registered to hear directly from Gingrich and potentially pose a question at Tuesday morning's event at the 1818 Club. Chamber president Jim Maran said more than 400 people expressed interest, but they didn't have the capacity.
Gingrich used his speech to lambast the media for suggesting his campaign was over and pushing him to talk about Rush Limbaugh instead of the issues. He gave one of his famous history lessons (this one about the history of flight in America), and got some jabs in at the president.
A few audience members who moved to Georgia in the mid-1990s said they had never before heard Gingrich speak in person and were excited by the opportunity.
"I hope he picks up steam here today," Brian Baldwin of Cumming, Ga., told Yahoo News.
Joe Lindenmayer of Duluth seemed doubtful that winning Georgia would rescue Gingrich's faltering presidential campaign. "I have concerns about him winning the general election, " he said. "One touchdown doesn't win you the game."
-—Rachel Rose Hartman, 12:30 pm EST
Super Tuesday Road Trip: Along Ohio's central corridor
CLEVELAND, Ohio--Stretching from here to Cincinnati, Interstate 71 cuts diagonally across Ohio, passing through cities, suburbs and farmland--all competitive regions for the state's Republican primary. "Interstate 71 is like taking a tour of the United States," said John C. Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron who co-wrote a study on how Ohio's diverse regions behave during elections. "It's symbolic because whoever can win those areas can probably win the country."
We drove I-71 last week, some 250 miles from north to south, meeting with Republican voters in their homes, schools and churches to find out whom they're casting their ballots for.
Ebony Grantonz is the vice chairwoman of Republican Party of Cuyahoga County, and the only Republican here besides her husband, the minister, at Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church. "I'm not excited about any of them," she told us of the Republican candidates, while expressing suspicions about the religions of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
"Rick Santorum would be the guy, as far as God and faith," Grantonz said. "But he's not on my ballot."
--Miki Meek and Bob Sacha, 11:19 a.m. EST
Strong support for Santorum in Central Ohio
GROVE CITY, Ohio--If the insiders are correct in proclaiming that the Republican race is over aside from the official crowning of Mitt Romney as the party's presidential nominee, then the big news has not reached this middle-income Columbus suburb. Judging from pre-work interviews of voters leaving the polls at the local fire station before 9 a.m, Rick Santorum has strong support here.
Well, at least, Rick Santorum is winning in my informal and unscientific exit poll, which I began with pre-work interviews of voters leaving the polls at the local fire station here before 9 a.m.
Not all Santorum voters are exactly staunch supporters. After I asked a middle-aged nurse whom she voted for, she looked at me in deer-in-the-headlights horror as she said, "My mind went totally blank." When I prompted her with the names of the candidates on the ballot, she said, "Rick. Rick, I guess. I like his values." But then, referring back to her post-voting amnesia, she added, "Wow, that felt bad. My mind was totally elsewhere."
This is not to suggest that all Santorum voters were voting at random as they made their choices at the firehouse that serves two precincts in Grove City and another one in Jackson Township. Eric Schacht, an electrical engineer from Grove City, might have stepped out of a campaign commercial as he rattled off his rationale for voting for Santorum: "I like his ideas about jobs. I believe that manufacturing is very important to economic strength. I also support his leadership in a lot of family issues. Not that they should be legislated, but they certainly should be discussed."
Most voters reached their decisions without much visible anguish. As Jerry Hunt, a Grove City real estate man wearing a bright red Ohio State Buckeyes windbreaker, put it, "Romney's my guy. It wasn't a hard choice. I started with Newt. But I don't think that he has a chance."
Or as Amy Dawson, an advertising executive from Grove City, said, "Romney has the greatest chance of beating Obama."
Not wanting to over-hype my returns (look at them as the first fragmentary Super Tuesday results), I have bravely resisted revealing them for four paragraphs. But the public clamor has become deafening so here they are: Santorum 16, Romney 9 and Gingrich 3. Generalizing from a single polling place (Republican John Kasich received more than 60 percent here in the hard-fought 2010 gubernatorial race) is, of course, folly. What was striking was the absence of a single Ron Paul voter here, as I have found that his supporters are rarely shy about loudly proclaiming their allegiance.
On a day when Newt Gingrich may regain a little traction by winning the primary in his home state of Georgia, I was surprised by flickers of continuing affection for the former House speaker in Ohio, a state where he barely campaigned and did not advertise. As a retired accounting manager, who did not volunteer his name, said, "Gingrich is my guy. But he's been savaged and doesn't have a chance." His wife, an administrative assistant, chimed in about "a wasted vote." They both opted for Santorum.
Ohio is the first major state on the political calendar in which local elections coincide with the presidential primary. Which is why it is hard to predict Republican primary turnout in Ohio based on early voting patterns because Democrats are also voting in significant numbers. My most enthusiastic voter was a high school gym teacher who raced over to me to volunteer her sentiments. "I'm a woman. I work. And I use birth control for health reasons," she announced. "I can't see how any woman can vote for Rick Santorum."
Were you a Republican primary voter? "Oh no," she said in horror. "I voted for Barack Obama."
Now on to Cincinnati, two hours south, to catch the lunchtime voters.
--Walter Shapiro, 10:29 a.m. EST
In Tennessee, a 'vote against Santorum'
BRENTWOOD, Tenn.--Out of 27 voters surveyed in an informal and highly unscientific manner in this heavily Republican and affluent suburb, 10 said they voted for Mitt Romney, seven for Rick Santorum, five for Ron Paul, three for Newt Gingrich and one for Jon Huntsman, who dropped out in January.
Sharon Coppenger showed up to vote at the Woodson Chapel polling station in Brentwood and then stood outside holding a Santorum sign to try to catch the attention of people driving by. "I think he's a truth teller. And he believes in the right to life," Coppenger said of her support for Santorum.
Clyde Rolston, a marketing professor at Belmont University, said he showed up to vote for Romney specifically as a statement against Santorum. "It's more of a vote against Santorum than for Romney," he said. "I'm a college professor, and he thinks we're all liberals and you shouldn't send your kid to college."
--Liz Goodwin, 9:58 a.m. EST
Santorum at a Oklahoma City rally. (Sue Ogracki/AP)
Santorum makes a final push for voter in Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tenn.--A group of about 10 Rick Santorum supporters gathered in front of Fox Donuts on Monday in a last-ditch effort to distribute signs and assign volunteers to work poll stations here on Super Tuesday. Lisa Dale, a self-described blue-dog Democrat who is the volunteer coordinator for Santorum in the majority-Democrat Davidson County, handed out about 40 signs and chatted, with a few women who showed up, about President Obama's contraception mandate, gas prices, and religion.
The women explained why they're supporting Santorum, whose once commanding lead over Romney in the state has shrunk to almost nothing as he's been hit by a stream of negative ads.
"He's a Christian," said Debra Vaughn, a 60-year-old Nashville resident.
"And he's consistent," chipped in Livy Sibley, a 69-year-old realtor.
"All the freedoms you got came from people who believed in God. Now we've taken God out of school, and you can't have a tree downtown unless it's called a 'holiday tree," added Dale, whose husband was a Nashville councilman.
"I think Newt has a constitutional foundation and so does Ron Paul and I think Romney loves America,"--"I don't trust Romney," interrupted Vaughn--"but I just like the overall foundation of Santorum," Sibley said.
The women bristled at the national news media's focus on Santorum's personal moral objections to contraception and his public policy objections to Obama's health care mandate that insurance companies cover birth control.
"That's so ridiculous. So he personally objects, so what?" Sibley said. "I am highly insulted that this contraception thing is treated as a women's health issue. Pregnancy is not a disease. There's no reason to consider it a women's health issue. It's a handout for recreational sex."
Dale, who decided on Santorum only two weeks ago after finally recovering from Herman Cain's exit from the race, says she thinks Santorum is "genuine" and that voters are attracted to his grassroots effort in Tennessee. She and the other Santorum volunteers said there's been very little money and organization in the former Pennsylvania senator's campaign in Tennessee.
--Liz Goodwin, 7:22 a.m. EST
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