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Published: Sunday, 3/4/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

COMMENTARY

Super Tuesday can't come -- and go -- soon enough

None of the GOP candidates thrills Ohio voters

BY DAVID KUSHMA
BLADE EDITOR

Take heart, fellow Ohioans. It's almost over.

After Tuesday, the political candidates will leave us alone for a while and we can get our lives, and TV stations, back. Until then, we at least can bask in our status as the alpha dog among the 10 states that are holding Republican presidential primaries on Super Tuesday.

The biggest question that Ohio's primary will help answer is whether Mitt Romney has gotten his mojo back. The former Massachusetts governor's narrow primary victory last week in Michigan -- his native state -- may not be giving his campaign a lot of new life next door.

Despite Mr. Romney's front-runner status for the nomination, an Ohio Poll released last week put him 11 points behind his chief rival, Rick Santorum, among likely GOP primary voters here. That margin likely will contract. But the fact that nearly half of the voters surveyed late last month said they could change their minds by Election Day suggests that none of the candidates in an uninspiring field truly thrills the Buckeye electorate.

Those of us in northwest Ohio had the dubious benefit of full exposure to the campaign in Michigan. Mr. Romney appears to have made himself few friends in either state, even among Republicans, by emphasizing his opposition to the federal bailout of Chrysler and General Motors by the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. That process preserved more than 1.4 million jobs and massive private investment, much of that in this area.

Mr. Romney repeatedly has shown his capacity to see -- and take -- both sides of an issue; the most recent example was his pirouette last week on the matter of contraception coverage in employer-provided health insurance. That penchant for flip-flopping has caused Mr. Romney to repudiate his chief accomplishment as Massachusetts governor: a health-care plan that provides near-universal coverage in return for a mandate that all citizens obtain insurance. That program was the basis of President Obama's health-care reform, which Mr. Romney and his party vow to repeal.

Amid these acrobatics, it's curious that Mr. Romney has chosen to stick to his opposition to the auto bailout. That position is not likely to endear the candidate to voters in Ohio and Michigan, the two states that depend most on the auto industry for jobs.

Union-represented auto workers may have cause to remember Mr. Romney's assessment that the bailout was a bonanza for them, not a cause of sacrifices they made to help the industry recover. And bragging that your wife "drives a couple of Cadillacs," as Mr. Romney did in Detroit, doesn't make up for it.

Otherwise, in Ohio as in Michigan, Mr. Romney has continued to keep his distance from the interests of middle and working-class voters who are not on the far right. Too much of his platform continues to consist of throwing tax-cut money at the rich by slashing federal aid to the undeserving poor.

For better or worse, Ohio voters also know much more about Mr. Santorum than we knew a month ago. We now know that despite his Tea Party credentials, the former Pennsylvania senator proposes a fiscal plan, laden with tax cuts, that would cause the national debt to grow even faster than it's rising now. Like Mr. Romney, he opposed the auto bailout.

We know that he considers higher education a liberal-elitist pursuit, even though he has three degrees. He says birth control accommodates sexual conduct "that is counter to how things are supposed to be." He says Mr. Obama espouses a "phony theology" that is not based on the Bible.

He says America is confronting "a war on people of faith, particularly the Catholic faith." He has told us that fellow Catholic John F. Kennedy's famous speech during the 1960 presidential campaign that drew a bright constitutional line between church and state "makes me throw up."

Mr. Santorum might want to reread that speech. Mr. Kennedy didn't say that religious values have no place in government or public life, as Mr. Santorum interprets it. He did say that his church would not determine his actions as president, any more than government can dictate church policy. It would be reassuring to hear Mr. Santorum offer the same pledge.

And if he's really ambitious, he may want to read America's 1797 Treaty with Tripoli, negotiated by George Washington, which asserts that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." (Thanks to Dale Butland of Innovation Ohio for providing this reference).

But in Ohio's primary, Mr. Santorum's bizarre pronouncements may not be liabilities. Eric Rademacher, co-director of the Ohio Poll conducted by the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research, notes that Mr. Santorum does best among evangelical and Tea Party voters. Both groups, he says, are highly motivated to go to the polls.

"His supporters are most likely to show up on Election Day," Mr. Rademacher told me. "Romney's campaign will have to do a lot to reassure and motivate his base to go out and vote."

An ayatollah in a sweater vest as president may appeal to hard-core true believers who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses. But it's doubtful that such support would expand to include independent general-election voters.

Because of disorganization in his campaign, Mr. Santorum will not be on the ballot in several Ohio congressional districts, including the Toledo-area 9th District. If you can't -- or don't want to -- vote for Mr. Romney or Mr. Santorum, there's always Ron Paul. Or Newt Gingrich.

On the adjacent page, you'll find The Blade's recommendations in Tuesday's primary. We aren't making an endorsement in the GOP presidential race, because of Mr. Romney's refusal to take a position on a vital national as well as regional issue: a badly needed new bridge from Detroit to Canada. Mr. Santorum also has ignored our inquiries about the matter.

After Tuesday, Ohioans and the rest of the country may get a better idea of the identity of this year's Republican nominee. His prospects for beating Mr. Obama in November probably will remain more murky.

David Kushma is editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: dkushma@theblade.com



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