appeared to pull off a narrow victory in Ohio on Super Tuesday but lost several other states to , a split verdict that overshadowed Mr. Romney’s claim of collecting the most delegates and all but ensured another round of intense infighting on the road to the Republican presidential nomination.
The result came at the end of a long night that put Mr. Romney that much farther ahead in the race for the nomination, but dashed any hopes he had of using the day to assert himself as the inevitable nominee.
Far from bringing more clarity to the race as some in the party had hoped, Tuesday’s elections gave every candidate cause to keep driving forward — including, who won a definitive victory in Georgia.
Mr. Romney won in Massachusetts, where he served as governor; in Virginia, where neither Mr. Gingrich nor Mr. Santorum qualified for the ballot; and in Vermont, Idaho and Alaska. Mr. Santorum won in Tennessee, North Dakota and Oklahoma.
But all eyes were on Ohio, which The Associated Press called for Mr. Romney early Wednesday morning, capping a turbulent night in which the results see-sawed both ways within a very tight range. Even around 1 a.m., Mr. Santorum’s campaign manager said he was still awaiting an assessment of provisional ballots that had not been counted before deciding to concede.
Speaking in Steubenville, Ohio, earlier in the evening, Mr. Santorum declared: “We’ve won the West, the Midwest and the South, and we’re ready to win across this country.”
When the result in Ohio was still pending, Mr. Romney assured supporters in Boston, “I’m going to get this nomination.” But acknowledging the mode that his campaign has now entered, he added: “Tonight we’re doing some counting. We’re counting up delegates.”
Seemingly noting some of his own mistakes over the past couple of weeks, Mr. Romney struck a chastened note, saying: “I’ve listened, and I’ve learned. I hope I’m a better candidate for it.”
Mr. Romney was poised to wake up Wednesday far ahead of his rivals in the delegate count, and about a third of the way to the 1,144 needed to cinch the nomination. As of midnight, he had 332 delegates to Mr. Santorum’s 139. Mr. Gingrich had 73 and Representative Ron Paul 35.
Yet the close race in Ohio, a state where he had far outspent Mr. Santorum, and his defeats elsewhere showed continuing vulnerabilities for Mr. Romney on both geographic and ideological grounds.
With the party as well as President Obama’s re-election campaign operating under the assumption that Mr. Romney remains the most likely Republican nominee, he has nonetheless lost states across several regions of the nation.
Only about 2 in 10 voters in Ohio and Tennessee who were asked on Tuesday which candidate best understands the problems of average Americans named Mr. Romney; one-third said Mr. Santorum did.
Yet the Romney campaign could point to the squeaker in Ohio and the delegate math, which fell so squarely in its favor, to argue it was winning where it mattered.
It was the most eventful day of the Republican race so far, with 10 states holding contests. And again voters upended the expectations set in campaign war rooms and New York newsrooms, splitting their preferences in ways that exposed continued divisions within the restive party between pragmatism and passion, political expediency and ideological purity.
Surveys of voters in Ohio on Tuesday showed the election revolved around the debate that has resonated within the restive party all year: whether to choose Mr. Romney as the presumed strongest challenger to Mr. Obama in the fall or Mr. Santorum as the more reliable champion of conservative causes.
The battle for Ohio was viewed as the most critical to determining whether Mr. Romney could finally emerge solidly on his way to winning his party’s nomination or was heading into an even longer fight.
Like Michigan last week, Ohio became a test of strength for Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney among the middle-class, middle-income Republicans who have become a swing group for Republicans this year, and voter surveys showed the two competed neck and neck for this group, with the slight edge going to Mr. Santorum. In Tennessee, Mr. Santorum benefited from a strong edge among the evangelical voters so critical in deciding Republican elections there.
Mr. Romney won a commanding victory in Virginia, though he faced only Representative Ron Paul there. Mr. Paul most likely benefited from the anti-Romney vote in the state, though it was unclear whether he would do well enough to pick up delegates there.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Romney did partake in one of his first (nearly) direct engagements of the man he is seeking to challenge: Asked about Mr. Obama’s comment playfully wishing Mr. Romney good luck in the Super Tuesday voting, Mr. Romney joked, “Ahh, do you think that was an endorsement?
“I hope so, but I don’t think so,” he added. “I appreciate the good wishes, and wish him best.”
Mr. Gingrich’s victory in Georgia provided Mr. Santorum with an unpredictable new element, giving him renewed competition in his bid to become the last challenger to Mr. Romney standing.
But Mr. Santorum was ebullient, extolling his wins across the country and repeating his assertion that he is the better prepared to take on Mr. Obama on his— overwhelmingly opposed by Republicans — than Mr. Romney because, unlike Mr. Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts, “I never passed a statewide, government-run health care system.”
Voter surveys showed that Mr. Santorum did well Tuesday among voters who believed that he understood their problems better than Mr. Romney, who has been struggling to connect with everyday Americans.
With so many states voting at once, the night was effectively a fast-forward button for a nominating contest that had trudged along with slow-motion acrimony, as Mr. Romney alternated between fending off Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich.
The continuing bitterness has drawn concern throughout the party, with Barbara Bush, the former first lady, saying this week that it was the “worst campaign I’ve ever seen in my life” and, on Fox News, calling it “too ugly.” (Mrs. Bush supports Mr. Romney.)
No one was more eager for an end of the intraparty sparring — and a solid break in his favor — than Mr. Romney, whose approval ratings and campaign bank account have been battered throughout a contest that when held four years ago was effectively over by this time.
In the march to accumulate the 1,144 delegates necessary for the nomination, it was the biggest election day of the year. The Super Tuesday states held some 20 percent of all of the party’s delegates.
In addition to Virginia, Mr. Santorum failed to qualify for delegates in several Congressional districts in Ohio, meaning that even a victory in the popular vote there would have been diminished by a loss in the delegate count.
Mr. Romney’s campaign and the well-financed “super PAC” supporting him indicated they would not take Tuesday’s results as an opening to let up on their fellow Republicans; both were already pouring advertising dollars into future primary and caucus states, particularly Mississippi and Alabama.
And if Mr. Romney’s aides were hoping that Super Tuesday would spell at least the beginning of the end of the nominating season, his losses in Georgia and Tennessee renewed questions about his political strength in the Republican bastion of the South. Mr. Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina in January had placed that much more onus on Mr. Romney to improve his performance in the later Southern races.
Mr. Gingrich had staked his continued viability on winning Georgia, the state he represented in Congress, and it was a considerable prize: It held more delegates than any other on Super Tuesday, 76, though Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul were in contention to win portions of that large pie.
Beaming from his election night headquarters in Atlanta, where his supporters chanted, “Newt, Newt, Newt, Newt,” Mr. Gingrich said defiantly, “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 and from this place.”
In an apparent swipe at Mr. Romney, he told the room, “You believed that people can make a difference — that, in fact, Wall Street money can be beaten by Main Street work.”
But it was unclear whether Georgia alone would be enough to inject Mr. Gingrich back into contention after several weeks in which he faded from the daily mix of the campaign and Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney took all of the attention. He is pinning his hopes, in part, on strong showins next Tuesday in Mississippi and Alabama.