COLUMBUS — In a nail-biter, Mitt Romney staged yet another late-inning comeback, barely snatching the critical battleground state of Ohio away from main rival Rick Santorum on Super Tuesday.
The former Massachusetts governor’s extremely narrow lead, plus Mr. Santorum’s failure to field a full slate of delegates in the Buckeye State, means Mr. Romney has won the bragging rights of the popular vote and a likely majority of the 63 delegates Ohio awarded on Tuesday.
To get the Republican presidential nomination, the winner must surpass 1,144 delegates.
Mr. Romney was doing some delegate counting in Boston. Speaking before Ohio, the biggest political prize of the night, had been called, Mr. Romney focused on jobs, taxes, and government regulation.
“For those who look around at jobs they can’t get and bills that they can’t pay, I have a message,” Mr. Romney said. “You have not failed. You have a president who failed you, and that’s going to change…
“You are not forgotten,” he said. “We will not leave you behind. Our campaign is on the move, and real change is finally on the way. These times may be tough, but our citizens still believe in the promise of America, and they deserve a president who believes in them.”
Mr. Santorum took to the stage in Steubenville less than two hours after the polls closed.
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“We’re going to win a few,” he said. “We’re going to lose a few. But as of right now, we’re going to get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole passel full of silver medals. We can add to Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, and now Oklahoma and Tennessee. We have won in the West, the Mid-West, and the South, and we’re ready to win across the country.”
His strong second-place finish still guarantees Mr. Santorum will not walk away from Ohio empty-handed since the state, like nearly all the Super Tuesday states, awards at least some of its delegates proportionally.
With 99 percent of the unofficial vote reported to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, Mr. Romney led with 38 percent. Mr. Santorum was close on his heels with 37 percent. Newt Gingrich followed with 14.6 percent, and Ron Paul with 9.2 percent.
Mr. Romney’s strength was largely in urban areas while Mr. Santorum was winning the rural areas of the state.
But in Lucas County, Mr. Santorum narrowly edged Mr. Romney by a margin of 335 votes. Mr. Santorum earned 37.8 percent, Mr. Romney 36.6 percent, Ron Paul 12.7 percent, and Newt Gingrich 12 percent.
This Romney comeback scenario has played out before. The “anti-Romney” of the moment — Newt Gingrich in Florida and Mr. Santorum last week in Michigan — held substantial leads in polls until the final days before the election when ads financed by Mr. Romney’s campaign and an unaffiliated superPAC supporting him filled the airwaves and shifted the momentum.