On Super Tuesday, Will Mitt Romney Finally Break Out?

Romney may finally be on the brink of taking an insurmountable lead in the GOP primary, yet Republican voters remain reluctant to accept him.

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ZANESVILLE, OHIO -- When Ohio votes on Super Tuesday, Amy and Mike Jacoby's Republican primary votes will essentially cancel each other out.

She is voting for Rick Santorum, because she thinks America needs to return to God-based values. He is voting for Mitt Romney, because that's who he thinks can win the general election.

"One of the fundamentals of this country is God, and yet the current administration is always trying to push that out of the discussion," said Amy Jacoby, 42, a blonde housewife with bright reddish-pink lipstick. "That's why Rick Santorum is still in it. People in the heartland are thirsty for that."

Tuesday is very likely to be the day Romney finally blows open the Republican primary, racking up so many delegates that the rest -- the 28 states and four territories that have yet to vote -- becomes a foregone conclusion. But he will have done so without bowling over the stolid, skeptical Midwestern voters of the Buckeye State, that crown jewel of swing-state America.

The perennial doubts about Romney -- chiefly that he is not conservative enough and can't relate to regular people -- have just never been put to rest for a sizable portion of voters. Nor have they been persuaded to overlook those qualities and stop yearning for a better option. Many are more or less resigned to having Romney as the GOP nominee and plan to vote for him in November -- but they're still not voting for him in the primary.

The Jacobys came to Romney's final Ohio rally Monday night in this picturesque old factory town in the southeastern part of the state, accompanied by their two children, ages 11 and 4.

Mike Jacoby, a 44-year-old economic development professional in a dark suit jacket and pink-striped tie, worried the eventual nominee would be damaged by the primary fight. Amy brushed off his concern: "People are getting engaged. That's good," she said. "Whoever wins [the nomination], they're going to get it 10 times worse" in the fall, she added.

Of the 10 Super Tuesday states, Romney appears almost certain to win Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia, and strong in Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska. Newt Gingrich seems likely to take only his old home state of Georgia, while Santorum looks strong in Oklahoma and Tennessee. However the chips fall state by state, the end result is likely to add to Romney's already substantial delegate lead.

But Ohio, like Michigan a week ago, remains torn, with the vote likely to be close. (The delegates could be another story: Santorum, whose shoestring campaign does not have a national headquarters or a pollster, failed to meet delegate-slate filing requirements in several counties, meaning he's ineligible to win a good portion of the state's delegates.) Though Romney has made headway -- Santorum held a double-digit lead in polls two weeks ago -- the fact that it's so tight underscores his inability to persuade voters it's time to come home.

Campaigning across Ohio in recent days, the candidates appeared little changed from their closing days in Iowa just over two months ago. Romney was a bit more at ease, taking questions from audiences more frequently, and has stopped doing that excruciating thing where he recites the obscure late verses of "America the Beautiful." But his stump speech remains a soothing, placid affair, a collection of maximally inoffensive platitudes. Santorum has gotten grander and less hangdog since becoming a known quantity, but his appeal, too, is essentially unchanged: an urgent, hectoring, disruptive vision of an America where God and family are returned to their rightful primacy.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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