Democrats Could Tip the Scales in Ohio

Mitt Romney seems to have gotten a small post-Michigan bounce in the next key primary state of Ohio, but he’s still trailing Rick Santorum by a few points in the state, according to a Quinnipiac poll out today. By all indications, the momentum of the race seems to be shifting to Romney nationally, so that gap in Ohio could close even more between now and Super Tuesday:

The Republican presidential face-off in Ohio is too close to call as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has 35 percent of likely Republican primary voters to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 31 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

While attempts by Democrats to tilt the race by voting for Rick Santorum in Michigan weren’t successful, left-wing activists were still encouraged by reports that they accounted for three percent of Santorum votes.

These activists are now focusing on the Super Tuesday phase of what they’ve dubbed “Operation Hilarity,” and it’s possible this could have an impact on Ohio. Like Michigan, Ohio’s a semi-open primary state, which means you don’t have to be a registered Republican to vote. The Washington Post reports:

The blog Daily Kos, which launched Operation Hilarity to encourage Democratic crossovers in Michigan, said in a post Wednesday that it was shifting focus for Super Tuesday to North Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont.

It didn’t include the Buckeye state — maybe because the Republican National Committee put out a list that says the Ohio primary is “closed.” And we haven’t heard of any crossover effort there so far.

But we called the Ohio Republican Party and were told it was “semi-open,” which sounds a lot like the Michigan rules. “You can ask for a Republican ballot or a Democratic ballot,” a worker at the party headquarters in Columbus said. The Democrats called it “semi-closed,” which sounds to us like pretty much the same thing.

On the other hand, if the point of Operation Hilarity was to boost Santorum’s chances of getting the nomination (because many Democrats believe he’s a weaker general election candidate than Romney), it may have backfired. That Santorum seems to be the left’s favorite Republican candidate is actually starting to raise questions about his electability. And while it’s still unclear how much of the Michigan Democratic crossover vote can be chalked up to Operation Hilarity – as opposed to legitimate interest in voting Republican – Santorum will be criticized if a sizeable percentage of his support comes from outside the GOP on Tuesday. Even if the majority of Democrats who vote for Santorum do it earnestly, it will still hurt his image and make him appear like a weaker candidate.