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Romney looking ahead after Mass. GOP primary win

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / March 7, 2012
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BOSTON—Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney played up his local ties after cruising to an easy primary win in Massachusetts on Tuesday, but half of those voting in the state's GOP contest said Romney's history in the state didn't matter much or at all.

Romney handily beat Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who put little money or effort into trying to deny him a victory in the state that he governed for four years.

Romney said his "campaign is on the move and real change is finally on the way" as he addressed supporters Tuesday night at the Westin Copley Place hotel in Boston.

"We're going to take your vote, a huge vote tonight in Massachusetts, and take that vote all the way to the White House," Romney told his backers. "When I'm president, this American economy will not be lagging behind, this American economy will be leading the world."

With President Barack Obama facing no competition on the Democratic ballot, voting appeared to be light across Massachusetts. Turnout was expected to be higher in communities with more Republican voters.

Romney's win was expected. Polls had given him a commanding lead among GOP primary voters.

But those polls show Romney trailing Obama by double digits in a state that has traditionally shunned Republican presidential candidates.

Romney returned to the state for the first time in months Tuesday to cast his ballot at a senior center in Belmont, where he and his wife, Ann Romney, own a condominium and raised their family.

"It's great to be back home," Mitt Romney told reporters after voting.

Preliminary exit poll results found nearly six in 10 Massachusetts GOP primary voters said the economy was their top issue, with about three in 10 naming the federal budget deficit. About seven in 10 said gas prices were an important factor in their decisions.

Just under half said they support the tea party movement, one of the lowest shares found in exit polling in any state so far.

And nearly half said the 2006 health care overhaul signed into law by Romney went too far. About four in 10 say the law's changes were about right.

Massachusetts Democrats tried to use Tuesday's contest to build support for the general election and to take a few whacks at Romney.

Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh said, "Romney may be able to spend his way through the Republican primary, but he can't write a check big enough to cover the fact that he will say anything to get elected."

But Republicans are holding out hope Romney's strong primary win could open the door to a possible GOP victory in November in Massachusetts.

Those odds are long.

The last Republican to win Massachusetts in the November presidential election was Ronald Reagan, Obama remains popular and Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is actively campaigning on Obama's behalf.

One recent poll found Romney trailing Obama in a head-to-head matchup, with Obama receiving the support of 60 percent of voters, compared with 36 percent for Romney.

Romney's primary win should deliver to him the bulk of the state's 41 GOP delegates. The state is not winner-take-all, but a candidate needs at least 15 percent of the vote for a chance to pick up any delegates.

Massachusetts Republican voters said they were happy to cast their ballots for Romney, who has pointed to his fiscal management of the state as one of his key campaign selling points.

Dylan Bausemer, of Whitman, voted for Romney in part because he has promised to cut taxes.

"He's got good business experience. It's jobs and taxes," the 50-year-old truck driver said after voting.

Some Democrats made the trek to the polls to give Obama a vote of confidence.

Ann MacDonald, a 79-year-old retired nurse from Whitman, is a registered Democrat who thinks Obama deserves a second term.

"He came up the hard way. He's made something of himself," she said after voting. "I know he's one of the smartest presidents we've ever had."

Green Rainbow Party voters were also faced with the choice of three presidential candidates on the Massachusetts ballot: Kent Mesplay, of California; Harley Mikkelson, of Michigan; and Jill Stein, of Massachusetts.

The preliminary exit poll of 945 Massachusetts Republican primary voters was conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Research in a random sample of 25 precincts statewide. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.

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Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie in Whitman and Jay Lindsay in Wenham contributed to this report.

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