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Voices from Ohio: Following Romney and Santorum

CINCINNATI | As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum spent the weekend campaigning to win the Buckeye State on Super Tuesday, voters listening to each man speak offered a glimpse at what Republicans are wrestling with across the country.

Santorum threw out plenty of red meat Friday night at the crowd of 800 gathered at the Croatian Lodge in Willoughby for the Lake County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner.

On the rising cost of fuel, he told the crowd to “remember ‘O’ for Obama” when they fill up at the gas station and see “all those extra zeroes.”

Santorum received his loudest ovation when he said President Obama should stop “apologizing for America” to foreign countries. “His gut reaction is always to blame us. Stop it, Mr. President. Stand up for our troops. Stand up for our country,” he declared.

But he also did not shy away from family values, despite acknowledging that people tell him to “just focus on the economy.” Santorum said the two issues were connected, citing the importance of two-parent households.

“Go to the areas of Cleveland where you don’t see any dads. What do you see? Do you see freedom? Do you see jobs?” Santorum asked. “Do you see police? Do you see government? Everywhere. That’s the reality.”

Dwayne and Jo Bailey of Perry said Santorum’s performance sold them on his candidacy. “I would vote for him right now,” Jo said.

“Tonight kind of tipped the scale,” Dwayne told the NewsHour. “I was weighing my options between somebody I thought could win versus somebody that had the convictions that I do,” he added. “I think that Gov. Romney, as much as I agree with some of the policies that he has, I don’t think he’s got it. I think he’s Obama-lite.”

Chris Pfriem of Willoughby admitted he still wasn’t sure who would get his vote on Tuesday. He said Gingrich, Santorum and Romney were all contenders. While conceding that Romney “probably stands the chance to be more electable,” he said that was not a determining factor for him. “What goes through my mind is not just who is more electable to beat Obama, it’s who I feel has my values,” said Pfriem.

“It may just be Tuesday morning I come in and make my decision then,” Pfriem added.

The next day Mitt Romney hosted a 1,200-person town hall meeting at an aerospace parts manufacturer in Dayton.

Romney was introduced at the event by former Ohio State University football star and current National Football League offensive lineman Nick Mangold, who attended high school in nearby Kettering. The former Massachusetts governor took note of the enthusiastic crowd, comparing the scene to a Buckeye home game, before moving on to more mundane subjects such as accounting regulations and the budget deficit.

One man in the audience asked Romney to recount the story of how he organized a search for the daughter of a missing business partner in the 1990’s. The story is the subject of a television ad from a pro-Romney super PAC that is currently running throughout Ohio and was used by the former governor’s presidential campaign four years ago.

Romney also took a question from a woman whose daughter is serving with the 82nd Airborne at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The woman quoted her daughter as saying, “There is no mission here. We have no definition of a mission.”

That gave Romney an opening to take aim at the president’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “If your daughter is not familiar with the mission that she’s on, how in the world can the commander in chief sleep at night knowing that we have soldiers in harm’s way that don’t know exactly, precisely what it is that they’re doing there,” he said.

Charles and Estherann Grooms of Beavercreek each told the NewsHour they were on the fence heading into Tuesday. She agrees more with Santorum’s “philosophy,” but likes that Romney offers specific ideas on how he will change things.

For his part, Charles said: “I like some of the things that Santorum stands for, but quite honestly I think Romney is the one who can win. I think we need to get behind someone who can beat President Obama.”

Romney capped off his Buckeye State tour Saturday evening, hosting a “Ribs with Mitt” event in a heated tent packed with supporters along the Ohio River. The 16-minute speech was mostly standard fare for Romney, who kept his focus squarely on the president: “He’s out of ideas, he’s out of excuses, and in 2012, we’re going to make sure he’s out of a job.”

The event was the first political rally for Cincinnati physician Matt Hershcovitch, who said afterward that Romney had his vote.

“To be honest, there isn’t much difference between the top 3 Republican candidates,” Hershcovitch said. “They’ll all probably do about the same, but for me it’s going to be about electability, because that’s the most important thing. If we don’t put up somebody electable then it doesn’t do me any good.”

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