Even as voting was under way in Michigan, candidate Rick Santorum had an eye on the next big prize in the race for the Republican presidential nomination — Ohio and other Super Tuesday states.
The former Pennsylvania senator took a break from morning and afternoon appearances in Michigan, where a fiercely contested primary was playing out Tuesday, to make a pitch to a standing-room-only crowd at the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg.
March primary election: precinct, ballot information
PHOTO GALLERY: Rick Santorum campaigns in Perrysburg
With his wife and 19-year-old son in attendance, Mr. Santorum's appearance served as a kind of northwest Ohio introduction. The campaign stop in suburban Toledo, even in the midst of a key primary in next-door Michigan, demonstrates the importance Mr. Santorum is placing on the Buckeye State.
Mr. Santorum spoke about his plans to increase domestic energy production, bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States, protect defense spending, and repeal President Obama's health-care law and other regulations.
He also slammed President Obama for apologizing after U.S. military personnel burned Qur'ans in Afghanistan, and he criticized his chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, for taking positions similar to Mr. Obama's.
"We need to have a candidate who can take President Obama on in this biggest issue of the day of government control of our lives and crushing our economy and our liberties," Mr. Santorum said.
During his nearly hourlong speech, Mr. Santorum said he would open up more oil drilling in Alaska and offshore and would support the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. He also rehashed aspects of his economic plan, saying he would cut corporate taxes in half and eliminate them for manufacturers — a message he hoped would resonate in Rust Belt areas such as Michigan and Ohio.
"I'm predicting we're going to surprise a lot of people in Michigan tonight," he told the crowd, later asking those present to help him "score a decisive victory" in Ohio.
So far many Ohioans are receptive, according to several recent polls. A University of Cincinnati survey released Tuesday showed Mr. Santorum with an 11-point lead on Mr. Romney in Ohio, which votes along with nine other states on Tuesday.
During his speech, Mr. Santorum also promised to eliminate regulations on businesses that have been enacted under President Obama, which he said will help small businesses.
He painted Mr. Obama as weak on defense, noting that the defense budget makes up a much smaller portion of government spending than in the past.
He criticized the President for apologizing last week to the Afghan president after the burning of Muslim holy books there. "Here we have a President who apologizes for nothing," Mr. Santorum said, adding that he would not have apologized.
On Iran, he said, "When I say Iran will not get nuclear weapons, take it to the bank. Iran will not get nuclear weapons."
He also attacked President Obama's attempt to force employers, including religious organizations, to provide health-care coverage that includes contraceptives and spoke at length about freedom of religion, noting that the Constitution does not use the phrase "separation of church and state."
He took aim at Mr. Romney too, saying the former governor's health-care plan in Massachusetts was too similar to Mr. Obama's. He criticized Mr. Romney for supporting the federal government's bailout of financial institutions.
"We need someone who has a little sharper contrast than that," Mr. Santorum said.
Throughout the campaign so far, Mr. Santorum has not answered questions from The Blade regarding his position on a proposed new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ont. Mr. Romney has said he'll leave that decision to local officials.
Ohio Attorney General Mike De- Wine, who introduced Mr. Santorum at the Perrysburg event, called him a "family man who has a set of core values that have never changed. This is the beginning of the final stretch in Ohio.
‘‘Ohio, obviously, is key," Mr. De- Wine said.
Mr. Santorum's message resonated with Randall Fought. The 59-year-old Perrysburg resident said he was leaning toward Mr. Santorum before attending the event, but he said after the speech was certain he would vote for him.
"The one thing I wanted to hear about is that this election is about freedom," the masonry contractor said. Jim and Julie Horton, retirees from Delta, said they also planned to support Mr. Santorum.
"You know what he stands for and you know what you're buying," Mr. Horton, a former project manager at Owens-Illinois Inc., said.
Ohio is just one of 10 Super Tuesday states. Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Massachusetts, are alson among those that will hold nominating contests the same day. Mr. Santorum appears to be focusing much of his energy on Ohio, which has the second largest number of delegates of the states that vote next week.
The national nature of Super Tuesday is likely to put a strain on the Santorum campaign, which has less money and a less robust infrastructure than Mr. Romney's. But Mr. Santorum has proved he can overcome those disadvantages in certain states.
With that challenge in mind, Mr. Santorum appeared on a number of nationally syndicated radio programs Tuesday, including Glen Beck's, and plans to do so again Wednesday. He also is to campaign in Tennessee on Wednesday.
Mr. Romney, meanwhile, is to turn his attention to Ohio on Wednesday. He is scheduled to appear at a rally in a North Toledo business, American Posts LLC, at 9:30 a.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Contact Tony Cook at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6065.