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Romney inches forward instead of big leap

By Rachel Streitfeld, CNN Political Producer
updated 9:49 AM EST, Wed March 7, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In tight race, Romney takes Super Tuesday's biggest prize, Ohio
  • GOP frontrunner acknowledges race will require patience
  • Campaign says delegates, not wins, were focus in South

Boston, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Mitt Romney doesn't get nervous on primary days.

That's good for him, because the Tuesday night battle for every last vote in Ohio was a nail-biter.

As Romney and Rick Santorum ran neck-and-neck and votes dribbled in from the Buckeye State, the former Massachusetts governor acknowledged the GOP primary season could require even more patience in the weeks -- or months -- to come.

"Tomorrow we wake up and we start again," Romney told a supportive audience in Boston. "And the next day we do the same. And so it will go, day by day, step by step, door to door, heart to heart."

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By the end, Romney said, he expected to become the GOP nominee.

And so Super Tuesday became the latest story in an unpredictable Republican primary season, in which Romney has long been considered the likely nominee but a pair of stubborn opponents continue to get in his path.

Super Tuesday results

The cluster of contests offered Romney the chance to quiet doubts about his ability to excite the Republican base.

But while pundits debated Romney's chances for victory in the conservative Southern states, his methodical campaign operation maintained it was focused on collecting delegates.

"It's really hard to predict what's going to happen tonight," Romney told reporters before the votes were counted Tuesday. "But I think we'll pick up a lot of delegates, and this is a process of gathering enough delegates to become the nominee, and I think we're on the track to have that happen."

Delegate tracker | Delegate calculator

When Romney made quick stops in Georgia and Tennessee before Super Tuesday, a senior adviser explained the campaign did not expect to win those states but instead to siphon some delegates from Romney's rivals.

The bellwether state of Ohio, however, stood out as the night's biggest prize.

Fueled by a string of wins, including a hugely symbolic Michigan victory, Romney returned his focus to the economy and President Barack Obama in appearances across Ohio. The GOP candidate toured industrial factories dotting the Midwestern landscape, and tried to woo blue-collar voters in speeches on cavernous factory floors.

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