STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Mitt Romney emerged the winner of Super Tuesday, taking more than half of the 10 presidential caucuses and primaries and claiming victory in the critical showdown state of Ohio — though chief challenger Rick Santorum's three victories solidified his claim as the heartland's conservative alternative.
The networks called the Ohio race for Mr. Romney just after midnight, capping the most important day in the two-month-old primary that saw the former Massachusetts governor win on the country's edges, while Mr. Santorum continued to emerge victorious in the interior.
In addition to Ohio, Mr. Romney won primaries in Virginia, Massachusetts and Vermont, and the caucuses in Idaho and Alaska; Mr. Santorum won primaries in Tennessee and Oklahoma and won North Dakota's caucuses; and Newt Gingrich won Georgia's primary.
"Lots of states. We're going to win a few, we're going to lose a few. But as it looks right now, we're going to get at least a couple gold medals and a whole passel of silver medals," Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, said at a party in a high school gym in Steubenville, as he surveyed results that solidified his position as the chief challenger to Mr. Romney.
All told, 419 delegates were at stake, accounting for about a fifth of all the delegates available to the August nominating convention.
Two months into the race, with nearly half of the states having voted, preliminary counts show Mr. Romney has more delegates than the rest of the field combined.
But he's still failed in the expectation game, where pundits said he should have wrapped up the nomination long ago against what they consider a weak set of opponents.
On Tuesday, Mr. Romney acknowledged what has turned into one of the most drawn-out Republican campaigns in modern history.
"Tonight, we've taken one more step toward restoring the promise of tomorrow. Tomorrow, we wake up, and we start again," he said at his postelection party in Boston.
"There will be good days. there will be bad days, always long hours and never enough time to get everything done. But on Nov. 6, we will stand united, not only having won an election, but having saved a future," Mr. Romney said.
The former Massachusetts governor has now won in Florida, the Northeast, the rust belt and the West. Meanwhile, Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker, has won two Southern coastal states. But with the exception of Nevada, Mr. Santorum has won every race in a state that doesn't touch a U.S. international border or the sea.
The candidates are seeking their party's nod to square off against President Obama in November, but Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies have focused most of their attacks on Mr. Romney, whom they view as the most formidable rival.
Asked at a news conference Tuesday what message he had for Mr. Romney on Super Tuesday, the president said simply: "Good luck tonight."
Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, who had yet to win a contest, spent his time in the run-up to Tuesday concentrating on caucuses in Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska, where his campaign said thousands of people turned out to see him at events over the past week.
"The momentum is building," Mr. Paul said at his postelection party in Fargo, N.D.
Mr. Gingrich had focused his efforts on Tennessee and Georgia, saying he needed to win the state he represented for years in Congress if his campaign was to remain viable.
Even though he placed third in Tennessee, Mr. Gingrich said at a party in Atlanta on Tuesday that his victory in Georgia keeps him alive, and he deemed himself "the tortoise" in the race.
"I hope the analysts in Washington and New York who spent June and July explaining our campaign was dead will watch this tonight and learn a little bit from this crowd," Mr. Gingrich said.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum fought chiefly over Ohio, where they hit on similar themes of smaller government, lower taxes and a stronger military — and calling for the repeal of Mr. Obama's health care law, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project and a tougher stance on Iran.
They also worked to draw distinctions with each other.
Mr. Romney painted Mr. Santorum as a Washington insider, while he billed himself as a turnaround artist, telling audiences that his 25 years in business, his work to revive the 2002 Winter Olympics and his experience as governor of Massachusetts equipped him with the knowledge needed to address the nation's economic and unemployment woes.
Mr. Santorum argued that Mr. Romney's support of universal health care in Massachusetts would hurt the party's chances of defeating Mr. Obama in November, and he accused the former governor of trying to cover up past support for the same sort of federal health care mandate that he now rails against on the campaign trail.
The former senator also played up his blue-collar, western Pennsylvania roots, telling audiences that he understands them, while arguing that the party must work to breathe new life into the small towns that embody the family values that social conservatives hold dear.
The outcomes of the 10 contests on Super Tuesday were not expected to be as decisive as the big day in 2008, when Sen. John McCain of Arizona essentially sewed up the nomination.
But Tuesday was expected to bring some clarity to the grind-it-out race, and to go a long way toward answering whether Mr. Romney could break away from the rest of the Republican presidential pack and persuade voters that he gives the party the best chance of defeating Mr. Obama in the November election.
Mr. Romney had been riding a winning streak, with recent wins in Maine, Arizona, Michigan, Wyoming and Washington state.
He also received a boost over the weekend when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia announced his backing.
But his high-profile endorsements have not proved to be decisive — and Mr. Santorum, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul all have campaigned against the "elites" in Washington that they say are dragging the party and the country in the wrong direction.
For Mr. Santorum, Tuesday's contests provided him with another opportunity to regain some of the momentum he appeared to have at the beginning of February, when he won caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a nonbinding primary in Missouri.
But his wins in the heartland masked the problems he has had running a national campaign.
He and Mr. Gingrich failed to qualify for the Virginia ballot, and Mr. Santorum's appearance in Steubenville was an interesting choice, given that it is located in one of the congressional districts where Mr. Santorum's campaign infrastructure failed him. He did not file the number of signatures Ohio party rules require to receive delegates to the national convention, based on the primary's results.
In other words, even if he won the district, he would not have benefited in the delegate count that determines the nominee.
John Brabender, Mr. Santorum's longtime political adviser, said they saw good signs from the vote.
"We won Tennessee going away; I think we won every county. We won Oklahoma going away. We just won North Dakota, and I think the Romney people came in third," he told reporters. "All I know is that after spending close to $10 million here in Ohio, right now it is neck-and-neck, it is going to be close to a tie, and somebody will win, but not by much. I don't know how they declare that anything but a disappointment."
Each of the candidates has vowed to stay in the race at least through this month, and as if to underscore that commitment, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul had already released public campaign schedules showing them traveling to Kansas ahead of that state's Saturday caucuses.
With the exception of Mr. Paul, the other candidates also made video addresses to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's meeting in Washington, where they embraced Israel and leveled stiff criticism at the Obama administration's approach toward Iran's nuclear program.
• Stephen Dinan reported from Washington.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.