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Super Tuesday: How Ohio Is Shaping the Republican Race

March 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
On the eve of Super Tuesday, GOP hopeful Mitt Romney cited his business background as good experience for helping the economy while Rick Santorum took aim at the media, telling voters not to be swayed by poll numbers. Kwame Holman reports, then Judy Woodruff speaks with some Ohio voters about which candidates they favor.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the presidential campaign, on the eve of 11 state primaries and caucuses that make up this election year’s Super Tuesday.

Kwame Holman reports on where the GOP candidates are and what they’re saying.

KWAME HOLMAN: For Mitt Romney, today was about staying focused on one of tomorrow’s biggest prizes, Ohio, and on President Obama and the economy.

MITT ROMNEY (R): This is a failed presidency. He’s a nice guy, but he’s over his head.

KWAME HOLMAN: Romney didn’t mention his Republican opponents by name, but, in Canton, Ohio, he said his background stands out.

MITT ROMNEY: I understand why jobs come and why they go. Other people in this race have debated about the economy. They have read about the economy. They have talked about it in subcommittee meetings. But I have actually been in it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Late polling had Romney coming back in Ohio to take a 34-31 percent lead over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The survey by Quinnipiac University put former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul far behind.

But at a town hall near Dayton, Santorum urged Ohio voters not to be swayed by those numbers.

RICK SANTORUM (R): Don’t listen to the polls. Don’t listen to all the media hype and all the things about what this race is about.

Just focus in on whether we have — whether we want a man who can stand up and paint a very different vision for this country, someone who’s got a principled record, someone who is willing to go out and talk about all the issues that are confronting this country, all of the issues, not just how we’re going to manage the economy better.

KWAME HOLMAN: In addition to Ohio, the Republican rivals had nine other Super Tuesday states to think about, from the Atlantic to Alaska, with more than 400 delegates at stake.

Newt Gingrich was banking on Georgia, the state he represented in Congress, and today he campaigned in neighboring Tennessee.

NEWT GINGRICH (R): It’s an objective fact that — that Gov. Romney’s technique, which is to outspend his opponents by 5-1 or 6-1, is impossible against Barack Obama. As the incumbent president, he’s going to have massively more money than any Republican.

And the way you have to beat him is to design a strategic campaign that sets up the debates and then prove in the debates that his advertising is irrelevant because he’s just plain wrong.

KWAME HOLMAN: For his part, Ron Paul held a series of campaign events in Idaho today.

Meanwhile, Romney won weekend endorsements from prominent representatives of two states, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

And Romney picked up a victory in the Washington State caucuses on Saturday, taking 38 percent of the vote. Paul edged out Santorum for second place. Still, a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll showed the potential difficulties for Romney or any other Republican who becomes the nominee. The survey, released today, showed President Obama’s approval rating had moved up to 50 percent, the highest it’s been since the death of Osama bin Laden last May.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in Wyoming, Republicans will start selecting delegates in party conventions starting tomorrow.

And Ohio, meanwhile, as you just heard, does look to be the closest contest, and one that symbolizes the battle for the heart of the Republican Party.

I spent the end of last week on the ground in the Buckeye State, talking to voters about what matters most to them in this election.

The sparks are flying at McGregor Metalworking in Springfield, Ohio, where workers are ramping up production on parts for top-of-the-line health club exercise equipment. It’s as good a sign as any that the economy around here is picking up. A family-owned manufacturers since 1965, McGregor laid off nearly 200 of its 450 workers when the recession hit.

But sales account manager and member of the founding family Jamie McGregor says last year was its biggest ever, and this season is looking even busier.

JAMIE MCGREGOR, McGregor Metalworking: We’ve rebounded from 2008 and 2009 levels. And we’re very happy with our backlog. I think that there’s a little bit more confidence in the American consumer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The work force is back up to 380, and employees are putting in long hours to fulfill orders to General Electric, John Deere, and Life Fitness.

DAVE DYSINGER, owner, Dysinger Industries: You know, I’ll grab one of these parts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Not far away in Dayton, at precision toolmaker Dysinger Industries, owner Dave Dysinger agrees business is turning around. After a decade-long struggle made worse by global competition, he is slowly adding jobs and building his work force back.

DAVE DYSINGER: We intend to add 10 more yet this year. So, by the end of the year, we’ll be at 55, maybe pushing 60 employees.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how are you feeling right now about the economy and about your business and the need for what you make here?

DAVE DYSINGER: Hopeful and cautiously optimistic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Both Dysinger and McGregor say they expect to keep on hiring into 2013, but they harbor uncertainty about whether the economy’s turnaround will continue. As Republicans, they think what the next president does will be critical.

DAVE DYSINGER: I’m very concerned about what’s going on politically. I’m not sure what the economy is going to do, especially as we come through the election cycle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In this state that President Obama won in 2008, both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum tell Ohio audiences they would be better stewards of the economy in the future.

MITT ROMNEY: You’re going to have a choice in Ohio about people running for president, first in our nomination process. Do you want someone who’s spent his life in the private sector, who understands where jobs come from? Or do you want someone who spent his career in Washington?

There are a couple of guys who spent their entire career in Washington. You can vote for them. I just don’t think we’re going to beat Barack Obama and get our country back on track if we have guys whose resume looks like his resume.

RICK SANTORUM: We can produce here in this country, we can compete in this country if we create a playing field that is level with the rest of the world. I will put my faith in the American worker every single time and the American entrepreneur every single time.

(APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: The economy has been issue one here in Ohio. But with little difference between the candidates on what to do about it, voters here are making decisions based on other factors. That has set off a furious contest between frontrunners Romney and Santorum. And since no Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio in the general election, the primary here carries even more weight than other Super Tuesday states.

Recent polls show only half of Ohio Republican voters say they’re satisfied with the current candidates.

Cedarville University political science professor Mark Caleb Smith says he’s struck by the lack of excitement for any one of them.

MARK CALEB SMITH, political science professor, Cedarville University: I don’t see Santorum or Romney or Paul or Gingrich generating a lot of intense enthusiasm. There’s a lot of interest and a lot of desire to know what’s going on, but I think people are looking toward November because of their dissatisfaction with the candidates, frankly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ohio Republican voters, Smith says, are driven by a desire to defeat President Obama in the fall.

His description fits Jamie McGregor, who wanted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to run, cares most about tax reform and job growth, and made his current choice for practical reasons.

JAMIE MCGREGOR: Mitt Romney, because of his electability, is attractive to me. I think we have to think bigger than just now. We need to think towards November. And I think that there’s serious risk with Santorum and Paul and Gingrich up against Obama, because I don’t think that they have the cross appeal that we’re going to need.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does that mean you have now settled on Mitt Romney?

JAMIE MCGREGOR: Reluctantly, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Manufacturer Dave Dysinger is also dissatisfied with the GOP field, but came to a different conclusion. Dysinger voted early for Gingrich, saying, he may not win, but will keep the pot stirred. He says he wants a president who can work with the other party and cut through the current gridlock in Washington.

DAVE DYSINGER: To me, that translates into political uncertainty. And that political uncertainty is why I am concerned about investing in capital, capital equipment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dysinger also worries about a critical shortage of highly skilled blue-collar workers, workers like tool designer Steve Milam. Milam says he wants to vote for someone he feels is authentic. For him, that’s likely to be Rick Santorum.

STEVE MILAM, tool designer: Romney to me is not — he doesn’t seem like he’s in touch with the middle class. He doesn’t answer a lot of questions when it comes to the middle class or people who might be struggling.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a characterization the Romney team bristles at.

Spokesman Ryan Williams.

RYAN WILLIAMS, Romney campaign spokesman: He’s been around this country. He’s seen people who are struggling, people who can’t make ends meet because they don’t have a job. And it breaks his heart every time he has to see a family who can’t make ends meet because they can’t find work.

So, he is committed in this campaign to improving our economy and providing the economic opportunity that working families will need to help — need to get back on their feet and get back in a steady job.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Enthusiasm this primary season and in the general election will almost certainly come from Ohio churches, like the Vineyard Community Church in Reynoldsburg, just east of Columbus.

Here, Pastor Dave DiYanni has been barraged with questions from church members who say they want new national leadership on social issues.

PASTOR DAVE DIYANNI, Vineyard Community Church: I think people are concerned about the decay of the morals in our society. And they’re hoping and trusting that maybe one of these politicians will represent them in our faith. So, you know, they feel like there’s a decay in issues that we consider very important, stuff like the pro-life issue or homosexuality, things of that nature.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Forty percent of Ohio Republicans identify as evangelicals. And Santorum hopes to capture some of their energy. His rally last Thursday in Chillicothe, Ohio, attracted a group of homeschoolers from the area, one of whom was mother of six Kymn Davis.

KYMN DAVIS, Santorum supporter: I came away with a feeling that this is an honest man, a man I can trust, a man who shares my faith, shares my value system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Santorum’s recent controversial comments about contraception, for example, have hurt him with other women voters.

Just two hours away, in Powell, Ohio, an affluent Columbus suburb, we found mostly Romney supporters, many who said they are uncomfortable with Santorum’s views.

KELLI PRZEBIEDA, Romney supporter: I am definitely a conservative woman, but I have different opinions on social issues. Homosexuality and gay marriage is one of them. I’m very much for gay marriage. And, so, I tend to like candidates that are more open-minded in the social issues. And I believe Mitt is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Santorum supporter Ohio attorney General Mike DeWine defends the former senator, insists his main focus is the economy.

MIKE DEWINE (R), Ohio attorney general: It should not come as a shock to people that he is pro-life. But he’s made it very clear, for example, in regard to birth control that he has his own views, but he’s not going to change what’s going on in this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: An argument the Santorum team was working hard to get across to voters since analysts agree, after his loss to Romney last week in another big state next door, Michigan, it is Santorum who is most in need of a win in Ohio.

Join PBS NewsHour’s live coverage of Super Tuesday from 6 p.m. ET to 12:30 a.m. ET here.