Huffpost Politics

OH Primary 2012: Rick Santorum Faces Pivotal Test Against Mitt Romney

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By STEVE PEOPLES, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — Rick Santorum is facing a crucial test in Ohio, where he's drawing upon his working-class background and underdog image to try to stop Mitt Romney from scoring a pivotal victory in Super Tuesday's premier contest.

An unapologetic social conservative, Santorum has cast the race in Biblical terms: He's David vs. Romney's Goliath. Even that "is probably a little bit of an understatement," Santorum said Monday.

The former senator from neighboring Pennsylvania has a shell of a campaign in Ohio, with no state headquarters and a barebones staff. In Romney he faces a challenger who enjoys a massive cash advantage and a political machine that's produced high-stakes victories in other states when his front-runner status was in doubt.

Santorum expects to be competitive in several states Tuesday – Tennessee, Oklahoma and Georgia among them. But Ohio voters, perhaps more than any others among the 10 states voting on this Super Tuesday, may shape the fate of his campaign.

A Santorum victory could reshuffle the Republican contest, sending a powerful message that Romney's grasp on his party's nomination is by no means assured. A loss in Ohio, where Santorum has devoted much of his time and resources, may have lasting consequences.

Santorum will spend Tuesday night watching returns in Steubenville, an eastern Ohio town just a 90-minute drive from his own Pennsylvania hometown.

On Monday, Santorum largely set his aggressive social agenda aside and focused on his plans to revitalize the nation's manufacturing sector, while reminding voters across Ohio about his family's blue-collar roots. But as public polls showed a tightening race, Santorum's team also sought to lower expectations.

"This fight will continue and it's going to go on for a long time after this," a Santorum supporter, state Attorney General Mike DeWine, said on the eve of the election. "We're going to fight state to state. I think Rick is going to win ... but it's going to be a close race."

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