WILLOUGHBY, Ohio - This state's Super Tuesday primary is proving to be the perfect microcosm of the nation's unruly race for the Republican presidential nomination: Mitt Romney is spending lots of money, Rick Santorum is aggressively courting conservatives and Newt Gingrich is counting on big ideas to swing votes his way.
Of the 10 states weighing in on Tuesday, Ohio offers the hottest contest. And with its diverse population, reputation as a presidential battleground and preoccupation with the same economic worries that nag the nation at large, Ohio seems destined to foreshadow the shape of the campaign as it heads toward November.
Despite the vast territory in play across the country, from Alaska and Idaho to Vermont, Virginia and Georgia, Romney will sleep in Ohio every night until Tuesday. It's that important to him.
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gestures to a supporter at Chillicothe High School in Chillicothe, Ohio, Friday.
Even so, the race was playing out in similar fashion in the other states with contests Tuesday. The former Massachusetts governor and his allies were flooding the airwaves, outpacing his rivals in every Super Tuesday state except in North Dakota, where Santorum was alone on the air but spending less than $8,000. Romney campaigned in Washington on Friday, the day before the state's caucuses, as he closed a Western swing.
Romney, who campaign in Washington state ahead of today's primary before returning to Ohio, has much of Ohio's Republican establishment behind him after years of courting the party's county chairmen and donors.
Romney's camp insists he does not need to win Ohio to get the presidential nomination or even to keep alive the expectation that he eventually will.
Losing here, however, would drive persistent doubts about the strength of Romney's candidacy.
His campaign's schedule - along with TV advertising commitments - shows Ohio is his priority on a day when Republicans in other big states also make their choice. Figures provided to The Associated Press show Romney's campaign is spending more than $1.5 million in television ads this week in Ohio and his allies are on the air with almost $1.5 million.
In total, Romney and his supporters planned to spend more than $3.8 million on cable and broadcast television ads.
His rivals dismiss the spending.
"The Romney organization is nothing more than money," said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, an early Romney backer who defected to Santorum just as the former Pennsylvania senator's late rise captured the interest of conservative leaders who were lukewarm, at best, about Romney's record.