by Katherine Harbin
CHICAGO, March 7 (Xinhua) -- Mitt Romney placed first in the Ohio Republican Primary Tuesday night, but with only one percentage point ahead of Rick Santorum. The win was not the decisive victory the Romney campaign had hoped for, and could cause problems for Republicans in the general election.
Though Romney won six states in Super Tuesday's Republican nominating contests, his performance in Ohio holds special significance, as it is a must-win state for the Republicans in November and traditionally gives hints of what will happen in the general election.
Since 1960, no candidate from either party has won the presidency without carrying Ohio in the general election. A crucial swing state, Ohio has a fairly equal percentage of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, meaning that the state is one of the most accurate representations of the American electorate as a whole.
A win is a win, and even a narrow victory for Romney is better than the Santorum sweep that was predicted there only one week ago by polls such as the one from the University of Cincinnati on Feb. 28, which had Santorum leading Romney in Ohio 37 percent to 26 percent.
Though Romney narrowly averted an absolute disaster, the slim margin of his win and a closer examination of Ohio voting data show there are still some issues with his candidacy that could spell trouble for Republicans should Romney be the ultimate nominee.
Of the Ohio counties Romney carried Tuesday, not a single one was from Ohio's rural counties, which Santorum had all carried.
Though Romney dominated in the Ohio cities of Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and their surrounding suburban counties, these same urban areas went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in the 2008 election and are likely out of play.
If 2012 were to largely follow the same urban voting trends as in 2008, which many analysts think is likely, the issue becomes whether Romney can muster enough support from this Republican base in these rural strongholds to beat Obama in the November election -- both in Ohio and elsewhere.
With his scores of endorsements from Republican governors, senators and even former President George H.W. Bush, Romney has the entire Republican establishment behind him. He is also the only Republican candidate who has been directly targeted by the Obama campaign in political ads, which seem to acknowledge his challenge.
Yet as Romney's overall performance Tuesday night showed, for all the "inevitability" of his nomination, Romney has yet to seal the deal with Republican voters, especially the socially conservative Republican base the party relies heavily upon in the general election.
In each of the historically "red" Republican southern states of Oklahoma, Georgia, and Tennessee, Romney failed to post a single win, losing to Santorum by 9 percent in Tennessee and to Newt Gingrich by 21 percent in Georgia.
In Virginia, where Romney only competed with Ron Paul due to organizational issues that kept Santorum and Gingrich off the voting ballot, 40 percent of people still voted against Romney.
These losses, combined with Romney's mediocre performance in Ohio where he finally managed to win, may give some members of the Republican Party new cause for worry, especially considering how the race has gone so far.
Paul Beck, a professor of political science at Ohio State University, said he believed this year's "contentious" Republican primary campaign has not only damaged the Republican brand for swing voters, but also frustrated many Republicans who are "not at all satisfied with the field of candidates."
Consequently, each of the Republican primaries has been characterized by low voter turnouts, ranging from a decrease of 14 percent of voter participation in Florida to 26 percent in Nevada.
If Republican enthusiasm remains low and a dissatisfied Republican base stays home in November instead of showing up to vote for Romney, it could very well give Democrats the victory.
While it seems most Republicans are content to see this year's arduous nomination process through to its end, Romney supporters argue that slowly but steadily, Romney is winning a stream of delegates and will ultimately secure enough to solidify his nomination.
But as the "anybody but Romney" voting phenomenon continues, so is the criticism, and with November fast approaching, the Republican Party could discover that a Romney nomination may have consequences too risky to accept in a general election.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday about what consequences a disappointing Super Tuesday performance could have down the road, Beck mentioned a possibility some political pundits say is being quietly discussed behind closed doors, as realistic Republicans ponder their fate in November should this negative trend continue.
"If Romney ends up being the person who is the frontrunner after the dust settles but still doesn't attract much enthusiasm and maybe doesn't have a majority of the delegates in his pocket, there is always the possibility that the convention could do what conventions do -- and that is select the nominee themselves," Beck said.
According to Party rules, if no presidential nominee collects the necessary 1,144 delegates by the time of the Republican National Convention, a brokered convention would result in which convention attendees themselves would vote on the nominee.
"It could be from among candidates and possibilities who haven't contested these primaries or caucuses," Beck said, confirming that Conventiongoers could conceivably disregard the current primary results and pick a new nominee -- for example, New Jersey governor Chris Christie or Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who are established Republican favorites.
Beck said that the odds of this last scenario and a brokered convention are low, as a change so late in the election season could prove difficult for Republicans to organize, and Christie and Daniels repeatedly declined to enter the presidential race earlier in the year.
However, with its revolving door of frontrunners and multi-million dollar Super political-action committees (PACs) allowing candidates to continue no matter what the odds, the 2012 primary season has been chock-full of surprises.