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Networks Project Mitt Romney Victory in Ohio; Rick Santorum Wins Other Key States

Mitt Romney Outside Campaign Bus - H 2012
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

According to a majority of cable news pundits and politicos, Romney's front-runner status in Super Tuesday voting belies a long battle as the party continues to divide its support between the former Massachusetts governor and two other Republican hopefuls.

Mitt Romney narrowly beat Rick Santorum in Ohio's Republican presidential primary Tuesday night, but his losses to former Pennsylvania senator and one-time House Speaker Newt Gingrich in key Southern states signaled that the race for the GOP nomination is likely to continue for months to come.

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Early in the evening on "Super Tuesday," it looked as if Romney might finally close the door on the nomination, after he racked up easy, if expected wins in his home state of Massachusetts, as well as in Vermont and Virginia, where neither Santorum nor Gingrich appeared on the ballot because they failed to file on time.

Romney's expected win in Ohio not withstanding, Santorum’s primary victories in Tennessee, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, and Gingrich’s win in his home state of Georgia, highlighted the former Massachusetts governor’s continued problems connecting with many members of the Republican base.

Santorum’s showing in Ohio was built on a direct appeal to working class white voters—"Reagan Democrats" who in this campaign have felt alienated from Romney’s background as a wealthy private equity investor. Similarly, Romney has yet to win in a Southern state other than Florida, which like California almost qualifies its own region.

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Coming out of the Iowa caucuses, Romney lost the South Carolina primary to Gingrich, and Tuesday he was defeated in all three of the Southern states where votes were held. Those results suggest that Romney, a Mormon who acted as a liberal Republican governor in Massachusetts, continues to be viewed with distrust by Evangelical Christians and self-described ideological conservatives, who comprise the overwhelming majority of the primary voters in Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

The Super Tuesday results also suggest that the social issues around which Santorum and, to a lesser extent, Gingrich have built their campaigns continue to resonate with the Republican base. That’s bad news for Romney going forward, since those ideological conservatives, also known in the GOP as “values voters,” have thus far considered him unreliable on hot-button subjects like abortion.