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Romney wins ugly in Ohio, fails to land Super Tuesday knockout

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DENVER -- It came down, as so many presidential elections have, to Ohio.

And on a Super Tuesday with 10 states up for grabs, Mitt Romney's narrow victory over Rick Santorum in the Buckeye State is enough to win him some delegates and avoid an embarrassing loss -- but not enough to deliver the kind of knock-out punch that could have nipped this long nomination process in the bud.

After trailing Santorum by as much as 15,000 votes in Ohio, Romney closed the gap with a strong showing in the state's urban population centers -- cities like Cincinnati and Cleveland, Democratic strongholds come fall.

Romney was ahead by 7,549 votes at midnight eastern time, according to the Associated Press, which declared Romney the winner roughly 30 minutes later.

Romney notched convincing wins in his home state of Massachusetts, neighboring Vermont, Virginia -- where he and Ron Paul were the only candidates on the ballot -- Alaska and Idaho.

But Santorum nearly matched him with wins in Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota -- wins that underscore Romney's ongoing struggle to win over more conservative voters.

While the doubts will linger on about Romney's ability to generate enthusiasm with the GOP base, his victories tonight only add to his lead in overall delegates -- and his symbolic victory in Ohio effectively prevented Santorum, never mind Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul, from emerging as a serious long-term threat to his grip on the nomination.

Gingrich, increasingly an afterthought in this race, may have found a reason to keep his fledgling campaign going after a convincing win in his home state of Georgia.

Palin votes for Gingrich

Paul, on the other hand, wasn't much of a factor in Alaska, North Dakota and Idaho, states where he'd been hoping to earn his first win of the primary season. Without one, Paul is expected to face rising calls to quit the race.