Rick Santorum leads in Ohio poll


Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum smiles while speaking to the crowd at a campaign rally. (Anthony Bolante/Reuters)

Rick Santorum leads Mitt Romney in the key battleground of Ohio, a new Quinnipiac poll finds.

The conservative former Pennsylvania senator takes 36 percent of the vote to the former Massachusetts governor’s 29 percent. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich follows with 20 percent; Texas Rep. Ron Paul is a distant fourth with 9 percent.

Santorum’s lead here follows a pattern — he does well in Midwestern states with large blue-collar populations, while Romney does better in the West and Northeast.

Ohio will be the major battleground on March 6’s “Super Tuesday,” when 10 states hold their primaries.

Some of the state’s 66 delegates are allocated proportionally, so every candidate will have reason to compete. Early voting has already begun, so there’s an incentive to start campaigning. It will be competitive: 50 percent of the likely Republican voters who were surveyed were open to changing their minds.

Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, is already putting $252,000 into ads in the Buckeye state.

Candidates will also want to start laying the groundwork for the general election, where Ohio will be a key swing state.

Right now, President Obama would take 46 percent to Romney’s 44 percent in the Quinnipiac poll, a statistical tie. Obama would beat Santorum 47 percent to 41 percent.

Picking Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R) as his running-mate would not help Romney; the ticket would lose 47 percent to 43 percent.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.

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