Ohio's GOP primary -- A few visits, some commercials and a lot of do-it-yourself

Voters are less than three weeks out from the biggest contested Republican primary of Super Tuesday on March 6. 

That's Ohio, the always-critical presidential battleground state.

Lots of excitement? Lots of activity? Lots of money being spent?

No, no ... and no.

For now, it is a low-budget, low-key affair in the Ohio nominating contest.

In terms of campaign visits to Ohio, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have yet to make a stop here (though Santorum will be in Ohio on Friday).

Newt Gingrich's first swing through the Buckeye State was just last week. Mitt Romney has made a couple of visits.

That's it. 

Ditto grassroots campaign operations.

"(That's) largely non-existent," said Chris Littleton, a Paul supporter in Westchester. 

So, without a campaign to work for, some banded together to create their own presidential political operation. 

Littleton said, "There are many of us who decided ... we didn't see the campaigns were going to engage in a large level, so we decided to do it for ourselves."

The buttons the surrogate-Paul campaign hands out are home-made, cranked out of a machine, one at a time in a makeshift Columbus office.

If there is a candidate who has momentum in Ohio, it would have to be Santorum. Coming off a trio of state contest victories last week, the former U.S. senator is getting a second look from Republican voters.

"It is clear now," said Lori Viars. "Santorum is the one who can beat Romney and he's the one who can beat Obama."

Viars is a political activist in Lebanon. Without any sort of Ohio campaign office to ask for some signs, Viars on Monday gathered some friends at the local ice cream parlor and made hand-lettered signs for Santorum's visit this weekend. One sign read "Invest in Our Future". Beneath the lettering was a drawing of a sweater vest, which has become a Santorum campaign symbol since he wears them so often.

What Santorum supporters are leery of is a TV ad blitz from Romney. The pro-Romney SuperPAC, Restore Our Future, appears to be running the only campaign ads in Ohio right now. The ads go after Santorum over earmarks and votes to raise the federal debt ceiling. There are likely more Romney ads coming.

State Sen. Mark Wagoner, a Romney supporter said: "Given the short time frame, I do expect a fair amount of TV advertising and a media blitz. Ohio has eleven-million people. It's impossible to shake everyone's hand."

"If it does come down to engagement," said Littleton. "Romney's got the biggest pocketbook at this point."

But so far, the Restore Our Future ad buy has been small by Ohio standards -- $140,000. 


Steve Brown is an author, radio broadcaster and seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.