03/06/2012 08:40 am ET Updated Mar 06, 2012

Ohio Primary 2012 Outlook: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum Fight For Buckeye State On Super Tuesday

The 2012 Ohio primary is perhaps the most critical contest taking place on Super Tuesday.

Going into the contest, the race for the Republican presidential nomination remains close between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. The AP reports:

It's the race to watch. Political junkies get all misty-eyed over this Rust Belt swing state, and not just because of the 63 delegates.

No Republican nominee has ever become president without winning Ohio in the general election. That makes it a powerful proving ground for the men trying to show they can take on President Barack Obama.

Ohio has three additional delegates, which are unbound by the contest.

While Santorum is hoping to make a splash with his performance in Ohio on Tuesday, bumps in the road encountered by his campaign could inhibit his mission to capture delegates in the battleground. The Dayton Daily News explains:

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is ineligible to win as many as 16 of the 48 proportionally allocated delegates in Ohio. He can’t win congressional district delegates in three districts and he fielded an incomplete delegate slate in another six, Maloney said. The only Dayton-area district where Santorum filed a full slate is the new 1st District, which includes Warren County and part of Hamilton County.

Because of the delegate issue, Santorum could win the popular vote and still lose out on a majority of the 66 delegates.

HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal reports on the latest polls out on the race in the Buckeye State:

Two final polls from CNN and Time in Ohio and Georgia provide political junkies with more to chew on, but largely confirming what other surveys have been telling us: Ohio remains a very close contest between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, while Newt Gingrich appears poised to win his home state of Georgia by a wide margin.

In Ohio, the new CNN/Time poll shows Romney and Santorum tied at 32 percent each, followed by Gingrich at 14 percent and Ron Paul at 11 percent. That margin is nearly the same as the estimate produced by the HuffPost Pollster chart for Ohio, based on all available public polls, including 11 completed in the past week. The chart shows Santorum ahead of Romney by just a tenth of a percentage point (32.6 percent to 32.5 percent) -- in other words, the race is as close as it gets, well within the statistical and real-world margin of error for primary election polling. Newt Gingrich (15.7 percent) and Ron Paul (11.9 percent) run a distant third and fourth place.

Nine other states will hold primary and caucus contests on Super Tuesday, including: Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

Check out the slideshow for more on the Santorum campaign.