Regardless of the outcome of Republican presidential primaries in Michigan and Arizona on Tuesday, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum appear headed for a showdown next week in Ohio.
Both candidates plan to dash there later this week. The candidates and their allies already are spending heavily on advertising in the Buckeye State. It's one of 10 that vote a week from Tuesday, with 419 delegates to the Republican National Convention at stake.
"An awful lot of Ohioans are just tuning in to this," said Terry Casey, a veteran Republican campaign strategist in that state. "It's going to be a sprint."
Beyond Ohio, Romney was looking to contests in the West while Santorumfocuses on the South.
Rival Newt Gingrich, seeking to inject momentum into his struggling bid, was working to make his stand in his former home state of Georgia and nearby Southern states that also vote on the mega-contest day of March 6. The former House speaker told reporters Sunday: "We hope to win in Georgia, we hope to do well in Oklahoma and Tennessee. We may surprise people in Idaho. We think we have a real fighting chance in Ohio."
Ron Paul also planned events in upcoming states, showing no willingness to abandon his quest to rack up enough delegates to ensure his followers have a voice at the late-summer convention and that the Republican Party, which once spurned him, welcomes him back into the fold.
All of the divergent strategies suggest the race could go deep into March -- if not beyond -- without giving any of the candidates a significant edge.
It's a scenario that all the candidates are anticipating.
"Look, this is going to be a long race, and there's going to be some ups and downs," Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
On "Fox News Sunday," Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, chimed in with: "How long the process goes on, I think it's hard to predict."
Gingrich argued that a drawn-out campaign would give states like California, which holds its primary June 5, a large role in the nominating contest.
Heading into Tuesday's contests, Romney leads in the race to amass the most delegates with 123. Santorum has 72, while Gingrich and Paul have 32 and 19, respectively. The totals include endorsements from Republican National Committee members who will automatically attend the party's national convention and can support any candidate they choose.
A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination.
Both Arizona and Michigan each lost half their delegates for holding contests before March 6.
Whoever wins Arizona, where polls show Romney with a lead, will get all 29 of the state's delegates. But Michigan will divide its 30 delegates by giving 2 to the winner of each of the 14 congressional districts in the state. The final 2 delegates are awarded in proportion to the statewide vote, probably to the top two candidates, if both get more than 25 percent of the vote.
Washington's caucuses are Saturday, when 40 delegates are at stake, followed by Super Tuesday contests in Alaska (24), Georgia (76), Idaho (32), Massachusetts (38), North Dakota (28), Oklahoma (40), Ohio (63), Tennessee (55), Vermont (17) and Virginia (46). Also, Wyoming Republicans will hold county conventions from March 6 through March 10, with 12 delegates up for grabs.
After Tuesday, no state awards all of its delegates to the one candidate who wins the popular vote, giving every candidate a chance to add to their totals.
With Gingrich the home-state favorite in Georgia, the state offering the most delegates on Super Tuesday, Romney and Santorum were turning to Ohio, the state with the second-biggest Super Tuesday cache.
Romney was expected to head straight there from Michigan on Wednesday. Santorum wasn't even waiting until the votes were counted and planned to go to nearby Toledo on Tuesday.
Underscoring the fight already being waged in Ohio, it's the only upcoming state where Romney and Santorum and allied super political action committees were all spending money on television advertising, according to records of advertising expenditures provided to The Associated Press. Romney's well-funded campaign was outspending Santorum nearly three to one, while the group that supports Romney, Restore Our Future, also was trouncing the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund.
The race in Ohio is likely to mirror that of Michigan, another Rust Belt state where the economy is the main issue. Romney and Santorum have spent the past week squaring off over who is more conservative.
The outcome of the races in Arizona, where Romney leads in polls, and Michigan, where surveys show a closer race, will dictate how the two compete for the votes of Ohio Republicans.
From that state, Romney and Santorum were headed to different areas of the country to try to pick up delegates.
Romney planned a Thursday trip to North Dakota before bolting to a fundraiser in the Seattle area. His Western swing would also put him within range of Idaho, should he choose to campaign there.
Santorum, meanwhile, was eyeing the South. He's advertising in Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee, where he is counting on his social conservative credentials appealing to Republicans in the Bible Belt.
While Romney has refrained from running ads in those states, the pro-Romney Restore Our Future is heavily invested in advertising attacking Santorum in all three states, as well as in Mississippi and Alabama, other Super Tuesday states. The so-called "super PAC" was spending more money on advertising than any other entity in March 6 states.