Romney emerges from Super Tuesday slog on top
Front-runner ekes out more state wins over Santorum, grows delegate lead
So much for Super Tuesday settling anything — least of all, when this race will end.
Mitt Romney eked out more state wins, including a narrow early-Wednesday morning victory in the tightly fought Ohio primary, and grew his delegate lead over his now clear main rival Rick Santorum in the Republican presidential nomination race.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, had hoped to use the 10-state spectacle to solidify his status as front-runner and build his overall lead in delegates to the point where his rivals would be forced to concede his advantage was insurmountable.
No one expected a knockout. However, if Romney could have put together enough wins and decent showings across the board, along with the backing of the party's hierarchy and a massive fundraising advantage, he would have been in a decent position to have the party begin to coalesce around him as the inevitable nominee.
But once again, in an already volatile and bitter race that has seen several candidates flirt with poll-leader status, only to wither, the front-runner slogged ahead but didn't pull away.
Will a long primary season hurt the Republican Party? Have your say.
Worse still, Romney's Super Tuesday showing could keep alive questions over whether he can seal the deal with Republicans and convince the party's voters he's the best man to beat Barack Obama in November.
With 96 per cent of the vote reporting in Ohio, Romney was finally projected the winner in the state and held a lead of 11,000 votes over Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, after trailing in the state's primary count most of the night.
Romney had started strong, as expected, by securing early victories Tuesday night in Virginia, Vermont and Massachusetts. He was later declared the clear winner in Idaho's caucuses.
But Santorum, who was facing questions over whether his social conservativism would cost him on the big day, stormed back with three wins of his own in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota.
Speaking to crowd of supporters at his Ohio headquarters in Steubenville, Santorum declared his campaign was now "ready to win across this country."
"We're going to win a few, we're going to lose a few," Santorum said. "But as it looks right now, we're going to get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole passel of silver medals."
Romney, meanwhile, vowed he would win the nomination.
"Our campaign is on the move," Romney told supporters at his Massachusetts headquarters in Boston, where he also offered congratulations and praise to all three of his rivals.
"I stand ready to lead our party and I stand ready to lead our nation to prosperity."
Gingrich held to Georgia win
Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich handily won the state he once called home, Georgia, but failed to catch fire in any other state, even in the South. He now lives in Virginia, where both he and Santorum failed to qualify for the ballot.
Gingrich, who has seen his campaign struggle in recent weeks after previously leading in national polls, threw all his campaign resources and time into Georgia to keep his nomination hopes alive.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters in Atlanta, Gingrich pointed to his win and chided "the analysts in Washington and New York who spent June and July explaining that our campaign was dead."
"I'm the tortoise," Gingrich said to great applause, suggesting he'll outpace all the other candidates. "I believe that I am the one candidate that has the ability to debate Barack Obama decisively."
Although the state awards only the second-highest number of delegates on Super Tuesday, Ohio's status as a battleground state in the national election with politically and economically diverse voters has made it the biggest prize of the night. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning the general election in Ohio.
Romney and Santorum campaigned fiercely for the state where, only weeks ago, polls suggested Santorum held a double-digit lead.
Santorum ineligible in some Ohio districts
However, Santorum's controversial statements on social issues such as birth control and the role of church in the political life of the United States seemed to deflate his campaign, while Romney more than doubled his rival on advertising in the state.
Santorum also comes into the state with a disadvantage of his own making: His campaign did not file in time in some of Ohio's congressional districts, meaning he may be ineligible to win 18 of the state's delegates.
While a Romney win in the state would bolster his campaign and show his ability to make inroads with blue-collar workers, a Santorum victory would give him more than enough momentum to carry on the fight.
Of Ohio's 66 delegates, 48 are allocated on a proportional basis by congressional district.
Paul, whose message of limited government and massive cuts in federal spending has proven popular, was hoping to gather more delegates in caucus and non-winner-take-all primary states.
Through Super Tuesday, 419 of the 437 delegates up for grabs are awarded directly to the candidates. The remainder are "superdelegates" who are not bound to the results in their particular states.
Of the 10 states that held votes on Tuesday, seven were primaries in which delegates are either allocated proportionally according to share of the vote, or to whomever wins a particular congressional district.
Three – North Dakota, Idaho and Alaska – were caucuses, which are generally seen as influencing how state bosses will allocate their convention delegates.
A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to win the presidential nomination.
With files from The Associated Press