Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney waves after voting in the Massachusetts primary in Belmont, Massachusetts, Tuesday, March 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
As of 11:40 pm Tuesday night, Ohio’s crucial Republican primary was too close to call, long after the polls had closed. With 91 percent of precincts reporting, Mitt Romney led Rick Santorum by just over 5,000 votes out of more than a million cast. Basically, Ohio is a tie.
Whomover ends up with the plurality in Ohio, the takeaway from Super Tuesday is the same: working class voters don’t like Romney, and it’s his greatest liability.
Romney avoided a decisive loss in Ohio by unleashing an advertising barrage in which he and his Super PAC outspent Santorum and Santorum’s Super PAC roughly four to one. It was a repeat of what happened in Michigan a week earlier. Santorum was ahead of Romney before the ad blitz and exit polls show that Romney has the same crucial demographic problem. Romney lost to Santorum in Ohio among voters making less than $100,000 per year and those without college degrees, just as he did in Michigan.
In November, the candidate who wins the Midwest will win the election. To carry the Midwest, the Republican nominee will need to dominate among white, working class voters. It’s possible that Romney’s weakness among those voters in the primaries doesn’t tell us much about how he would perform against Obama. “White, non-college educated voters are precisely the slice of the electorate where the President is weakest,” notes Leonardo Alcivar, a political consultant and veteran of Republican presidential campaigns. The ones choosing Santorum over Romney will probably choose Romney over Obama. But it’s also possible that Romney’s lack of personal appeal to white, working class voters holds true across partisan and ideological lines. In that case, while the current Santorum voters will back the eventual Republican nominee, Romney may turn off blue-collar swing voters. Maybe they will vote for Obama, or maybe they will just stay home.
Recent polls suggest Romney may not be strong enough among those voters to overcome Obama. As Ron Brownstein wrote in National Journal on Monday, polls show the primary has been taking a toll on Romney’s image among swing voters: