Romney campaign downplays Ohio's importance

BELLEVUE, Washington Thu Mar 1, 2012 11:17pm EST

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BELLEVUE, Washington (Reuters) - After eking out a slim victory in his home state of Michigan, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign said Thursday the front-runner for the party's nomination can survive a loss next week in the critical state of Ohio.

A senior Romney adviser seemed to be lowering expectations for the crown jewel of the 10 states that will hold primaries or caucuses next week on "Super Tuesday."

Romney, who also won a primary in Arizona on Tuesday, is focused on winning delegates from each state, and his campaign would not be hurt by a loss in Ohio, the adviser told reporters aboard the candidate's plane.

"I don't think we have to win" in Ohio, said the adviser, who spoke on background. "I think that we're in a good place as long as we're winning delegates."

Ohio, a crucial battleground state in the general election against Democratic President Barack Obama, suffers from continued high unemployment. As such, both Romney and his top challenger, Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, have trained their focus on blue-collar voters.

Romney, who narrowly beat Santorum in the Michigan primary, has made manufacturing a centerpiece of his newly honed message. His first two campaign stops after Michigan were in Ohio.

Romney rolled to an easy victory in Arizona, but Santorum, known for his religious conservatism and working-class roots, posed an unexpectedly stiff challenge in Michigan. Romney's margin of victory was only 3 percentage points in the state where he grew up and where his father was governor in the 1960s.

Romney is campaigning in Idaho and Washington state before returning to Ohio for two days of campaigning on Friday.

Regardless of what happens on Super Tuesday, Romney's campaign did not expect any of the remaining challengers, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Representative Ron Paul, to drop out. " knows that this is a long process, that this is not going to end anytime in the near future," the adviser said.

(Reporting By Sam Youngman; Editing by Lily Kuo and Philip Barbara)

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