I wished to save the Ohio Primary for last, because it seemed to be the most complex and most important primary of Super Tuesday. However, I fear that several days after the contest, my efforts at cataloging the night's results have caused me a bit of fatigue, and the excitement has worn off. In addition, I have now read three days worth of spin about the meaning of the Ohio primary. Nevertheless, I will try to describe what happened as best as I can.
One of the urban legends of American politics is that Ohio is the perfect cross section of the American electorate. But this is one of those urban legends that turns out to be true. Although not an absolute truth, Ohio is pretty representative of American society and politics as a whole. In Presidential elections, Ohio has been a bellweather in every year since 1960. It was thought that this year it would be a similar bellweather in the primary.
The general consensus was that Mitt Romney would do well in the urban areas, Rick Santorum in the rural areas, and the question was who the suburbs would break for. Or, these regional labels could be replaced with ideological ones. In any case, there was a middle, and no one knew exactly how it would be divided. If Ohio is the middle of the country, this primary would hinge on the middle of Ohio.
And like anything hinged, it swung back and forth. The first returns were from Urban areas, so Romney swung to an early lead. But then rural areas started to report, and Santorum swung to a lead of several points. For most of the night, he was ahead, but then the urban areas finished counting their vote, and Romney crept ahead. Finally, he overtook Santorum. The final count was Mitt Romney with 37.9% of the vote, Rick Santorum with 37.1% of the vote, Newt Gingrich with 14.6% of the vote, and Ron Paul at 9.2%.
There are many different ways to interpret these results, some more valid than others. Mitt Romney won. He won in a state that was not especially favorable to him. He proved that even if he is not a superstar, the basic suburban, middle of the road voter will vote for him. He now has a coalition, of sorts. On the other hand, Mitt Romney is the presumed front runner, and yet even after spending a lot of money (sorry, I don't have the exact figures) he could only pull out a .8% win against a candidate that is understaffed, underfunded and not especially charismatic. If the night had gone a little differently, if more or less voters had shown up, if the weather was different, it would be Santorum ahead by .8%, and we would be reading a different narrative.
I don't know which narrative to choose. But since Ohio is, within broad strokes, much like the country on a whole, I think that the primary there is a good sign of how the rest of the race will be.