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Republican presidential candidates, voters gear up for Super Tuesday



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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Voters in 10 states are gearing up for "Super Tuesday," a major milestone in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Going into the primaries and caucuses, most are showing strong support for one candidate or the other.

The race for the nomination has become a race for delegates. In Ohio - a state widely viewed as a major battleground - things are unpredictable. Wednesday, Mitt Romney toured a sheet steel plant in Canton where he focused on jobs.

"What I know is the economy," he said. "I spent my life in the real economy. I understand why jobs come and why they go."

Across the state, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum also talked jobs in Miamisburg, but also social issues.

"Whether we are a country that is going to believe in the integrity of the family," he said. "We're a country that's going to respect all human life."

Those two issues are exactly what voters in Ohio are worried about. Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, spends his time at work meeting with political leaders and shaping the debate on abortion issues.

But he spends his time at home as a dedicated husband and father. He's concerned about the future that awaits his 5-year-old daughter, Olivia.

"Knowing now that all four (candidates) are pro-life and that all four would appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices, we can now take the next step and look at how are we going to get jobs for my family," said Gonidakis. "Ensure that our state of Ohio is going to do well for my 5-year-old daughter to go to school and get a job and stay in the state."

Gonidakis and his wife called November's election a "tipping point."

Battles for the South

Of the two Southern states on the Super Tuesday schedule, the latest polling shows a tightening race in Tennessee between Romney and Santorum.

But in Georgia, it's Gingrich country -- his home state, politically, for years.

Like a cat with nine lives, Gingrich has survived to this point, but a loss in Georgia and his candidacy loses both money and viability, according to Joel McElhannon, a Georgia political strategist.

"It's pretty clear Newt Gingrich is going to win Georgia," he said. "This is his home state and it is a win, but to a certain extent, it's also a little bit of disappointment. He's had to spend a substantial amount of his time and resources here in Georgia to win a state that everyone expects him to win."

Richard Wilson is a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. In the Volunteer State, Wilson says it's a battle between Romney and Santorum, who is actively courting social conservatives.

"The largest issue is whether the establishment will be able to prevail against the more evangelical groups, the religious right and so on who favor Santorum," he said.

In Georgia, with 76 delegates at stake, the latest polls show Gingrich holding steady with a double digit lead over Romney. In Tennessee, a new survey finds a two-way race, looking too close to call, with Santorum in front of Romney by a mere four percent.

The battle is being waged on several fronts. Each candidate aims to win as many delegates as possible, and something just as important, pull momentum their way.

"I just think it's a momentum thing," said NBC Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd. "We're in one of those places where momentum is everything."

Super Tuesday stakes

At stake on Super Tuesday - a third of the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination. There are 419 delegates up for grabs in the 10 states. Ohio has the most delegates to offer.

Candidates need 1,144 delegates to win the nomination. So far, Romney leads the count with 203 delegates. His next-closest competitor is Santorum, who has 92.

While tomorrow likely won't settle much between those two candidates, it could nudge Gingrich out of the race, or boost Ron Paul.

Contributing: John Daley

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