COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Mitt Romney eked out a win Tuesday for the coveted Republican presidential nomination in traditional battleground Ohio, beating Rick Santorum by about 1 percentage point.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the former Massachusetts governor was ahead by about 12,000 votes among roughly 1.2 million Republican voters in the state.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was a distant third.
Voters were split over which candidate could best represent their interests and those of the country at large, while others seemed less than enthusiastic about their choices in the closely watched race.
Don Ryan, 71, a retiree who voted in the heavily Republican Anderson Township in suburban Cincinnati, said he chose Romney because he thinks he has the best chance to beat President Barack Obama.
“He has less baggage than the others and more money to help him against Obama,” Ryan said.
No Republican nominee has reached the White House without carrying the swing state. Obama carried Ohio in 2008, after the state went for George W. Bush in 2004.
In another closely watched battle, Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur won a key congressional race pitting her against fellow veteran incumbent Dennis Kucinich. They were thrown into a primary in a newly drawn district along the Lake Erie shore, from Cleveland to Toledo.
Kaptur had about 56 percent of the vote to about 40 percent for Kucinich. She’ll face GOP primary winner Samuel Wurzelbacher, the Toledo-area voter who became known as “Joe the Plumber” during the 2008 presidential campaign after expressing working-man concern about taxes to then-candidate Obama.
Among other incumbents, fourth-term U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt lost the Republican primary in her Cincinnati-area district to an Iraq war veteran. Army combat surgeon Brad Wenstrup garnered about 49 percent of the vote.
In the U.S. Senate, Ohio’s first-term Treasurer Josh Mandel easily won the Republican nomination. The 34-year-old Marine veteran will face Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown in the fall. Brown is a former congressman and Ohio secretary of state with a progressive following around the state.
Mandel had been heavily favored to win in a field that included an orthopedic surgeon, a clinical physiologist and political event organizer whose wide-ranging resume included stints as an autoworker, model and real estate agent.
In the Legislature, all six incumbent House Democrats who faced primary challengers won, including Minority Leader Armond Budish of Beachwood. Republican Peggy Lehner of Kettering, the only sitting senator in a primary contest, won her race.
Contenders included public workers who were against the union-limiting bill passed last spring by the Republican-dominated General Assembly and repealed by voters in November. Among them, Democrat Donna O’Connor, a Dublin teacher, was successful in her first bid to seek a state House seat in the Columbus suburbs.
Democratic voters chose former Judge William O’Neill to challenge an Ohio Supreme Court justice.
In the GOP presidential contest, retired utility worker Robert Reed, 76, said he voted for Santorum, but doesn’t care for him much as a candidate and wasn’t impressed with the other candidates.
“Romney is too rich, Santorum is too religious, Ron Paul is too old, and I just don’t like Gingrich,” he said
Reed said he wanted to exercise his right to vote, but he expects to vote for Obama in November.
Some Ohio voters who described themselves as independent also weren’t impressed with anyone in the Republican field.
“It’s going to make me vote Democratic,” said Chuck Horning, a 47-year-old accountant who said he didn’t vote in the presidential primary at the Anderson Township polling site.
“It is a painful process this year,” he said. “I don’t like the way the Republicans have gone after each other, and the Democrats aren’t any better.”
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