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GOP Candidates split Super Tuesday

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Republican presidential candidates were quickly carving up the Super Tuesday pie, with Mitt Romney splitting victories with Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich -- as the race in the high-stakes Ohio contest remains too close to call. 

Romney is so far in the lead with three wins in eastern states considered friendly territory for the former Massachusetts governor. Romney is the winner in Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia, Fox News projects. In Virginia, only he and Ron Paul qualified for the ballot. 

But Santorum is the projected winner in both Tennessee and Oklahoma. That gives him the foundation for a good night after losing out to Romney in Michigan and Arizona a week ago. 

And Gingrich has swept to what is expected to be a decisive victory in Georgia, the state he used to represent in the House. 

Meanwhile, the candidates eagerly await the results from Super Tuesday's most hard-fought contest in Ohio, which is too close to call. 

The Ohio contest is considered the prize of the night. While the race is too close to call, Romney and Santorum are battling for the lead -- Gingrich and Paul trail far behind. 

Caucuses are being held in North Dakota, Idaho and Alaska. 

Gingrich won the night's most valuable contest in terms of sheer delegates. His victory in Georgia was his first since the South Carolina contest in January, and he is expected to win by a wide margin. Romney is projected to finish second. 

Gingrich's victory in Georgia, which he represented in Congress for 20 years, gives the former House speaker a much-needed boost after a rough six weeks on the campaign trail. He hadn't won a contest since the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21. Since winning South Carolina, Gingrich's most frequent primary finish has been fourth place, though he had a handful of second- and third-place finishes. 

With two wins now under his belt, both in the South, Gingrich can head into next week's contests in Alabama and Mississippi making the argument that he is the candidate favored by voters in the deep South. 

Gingrich is expected to pick up the majority of the 76 delegates in Georgia, which is the biggest delegate prize on the map Tuesday night.

While full results are far from in, exit polling gives a glimpse of voter priorities. The polling, practically across the board, shows beating President Obama is the top goal of Republican voters in seven states -- where exit polling data on Tuesday's presidential primaries shows the economy is the top issue across every state. 

The seven states voting in primaries Tuesday represent a wide range of Republicans, from the most moderate in Vermont and Massachusetts to the most conservative and religious in Oklahoma and Tennessee. 

Romney has surged in recent days in Ohio after Santorum had a sizeable lead in the state. But even if Santorum were to come out ahead in the popular vote, he is ineligible for 18 of the state's 66 delegates because of filing problems. 

According to exit polls, those who are most concerned with beating Obama say they are voting for Romney while Santorum is taking the advantage among conservatives. One of the big fights in the Buckeye State has been for the backing of working-class voters, who are a big segment of the voting population.

Those without a college degree number about half in exit polling, and the early results show these folks are splitting their vote, with a slight edge to Santorum.

Romney barnstormed the state on Tuesday before returning to his home state of Massachusetts to cast a vote in Belmont before attending an Election Night rally in Boston. 

In total, 419 delegates are at stake on Super Tuesday, more than the total number that have been awarded in all the contests to date.

Paul alone visited Alaska with its strong libertarian streak and worked North Dakota, where Democrats and independents can vote. 

At an early rally in Fargo, N.D., Paul made an effort to distinguish himself from the rest of the field -- claiming the rest of the candidates are drawing from the same playbook when it comes to foreign policy and monetary policy. 

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