MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – Republican voters in ten states went to the polls on Super Tuesday to cast their ballots as to who they’d like to see challenge President Barack Obama for the presidency.
Mitt Romney won six states, Rick Santorum clinched three and Newt Gingrich prevailed in one. Only in three states did most people say they strongly supported the contender they backed, nowhere reaching 6 in 10. In the four other states where polling was conducted Tuesday, less than half expressed that degree of support for their candidate.
Even so, Republicans will eventually support the nominee. They always do. Just look at how the grumbling over John McCain faded four years ago when voters were given the choice of begrudgingly supporting the Arizona senator or backing Obama.
Until Tuesday, Gingrich hadn’t won a primary or caucus since South Carolina on Jan. 21. He had declared Georgia a must-win state and essentially camped out there for the past week. Gingrich, who represented Georgia for years in the U.S. House, made the state his firewall in hopes of winning a rationale to continue his bid.
It worked. At least for the moment.
“The media said, ‘Oh, I guess this is over, finally,’” Gingrich told supporters. “But you all said no.”
Now the question is whether his backers open their wallets to prove he can compete.
Underscoring the urgency, ally Herman Cain was soliciting donations even before Gingrich had gone to bed.
Santorum should feel good about Ohio. While they his shoestring, scattershot campaign didn’t collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot in the Steubenville area, a rural, conservative part of the state where his message on social issues — and his kinship with a region that neighbors his home state of Pennsylvania — should have given him an advantage. And that meant he ceded delegates from that region.
Yet, he still managed to make it a close race with Romney, and he won at least some delegates. And Romney just eked out a win, not the decisive victory he had sought. The results won’t force Santorum from the campaign. If anything, it foreshadows problems for Romney in contests ahead.
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In the seven states that had exit polls, Romney — a millionaire many times over who has struggled to connect with working-class voters — was the preferred candidate of the wealthiest voters. In Ohio and Tennessee, Romney won about 4 in 10 voters who reported a household income of more than $200,000. In Georgia, about a third of voters with a family income greater than $100,000 backed Romney. In his home state of Massachusetts, about three-quarters of voters making more than $200,000 supported him.
Santorum, in turn, did well among less affluent voters. In Ohio and Tennessee, he claimed about 4 in 10 voters reporting an income between $50,000 and $99,000. In Oklahoma, he won about 4 in 10 voters who made less than $50,000.
Geography also plays a key role for the Romney campaign.
While he does well in the Northeast and Midwest, he’s weak below the Mason-Dixon line. South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee — and, to the west, Oklahoma — all have rejected him. The upcoming calendar gives him scant reason to be optimistic: Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana all have contests this month.
Sure, Romney won Florida, but that is hardly a Southern state by tradition. And Virginia was a contest between only Romney and Paul — hardly a real choice among rank-and-file Republicans who see the Texas congressman as outside the mainstream of conservative positions.
Ohio remains the ultimate down-to-the-wire presidential state.
Ohio is a microcosm of the country. It has urban centers and sprawling farms. It has diversity in both race and income. It has conservative strongholds in the southwest corner and it has liberal bastions in the northeast, near Cleveland, where moderates sometimes defect to Republicans. Its eastern and southern edges are Appalachia and tend to be filled with more swing voters.
In the end, Romney won the state that no Republican has ever lost on a successful White House run.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)