The Republican frontrunners have their sights set on Ohio as Super Tuesday opens in the Republican presidential campaign.
The signs point to a concentration of votes behind Mitt Romney but the 10 states holding their primary votes are unlikely to resolve the GOP race. There was a growing sense, however, that Super Tuesday would show Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich as failing to realistically challenge what is believed to be the inevitable candidacy of the former Massachusetts governor.
There was also growing consensus among party officials that such a combative and expensive process could cost them the election in the autumn unless one candidate sews up the nomination in the next few weeks. A recent poll conducted by MSNBC reported: "Four in 10 of all adults say the GOP nominating process has given them a less favourable impression of the Republican Party, versus slightly more than one in 10 with a more favourable opinion."
With more than 400 delegates in the running, Super Tuesday represents the most significant milestone in the Republican race. Most states appear to be foregone conclusions: Massachusetts and Virginia should fall heavily for Romney; Newt Gingrich is expected to take Georgia; while Santorum is likely to triumph in Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Nevertheless, Santorum or Gingrich were hoping to poll competitively in North Dakota, Alaska, Idaho and Vermont (for which no polling has been carried out) and demonstrate they can extend the race as viable alternatives to Romney.
Santorum, stymied by campaign disorganisation, needs to win Ohio - a critical swing state in the presidential election. As in neighbouring Michigan, a victory here would likely mean a split of the delegate count but a win for Santorum would demonstrate Republican voters still harbour reservations about Romney.
Unfortunately for Santorum, the main story this week seems to be the recognition among Republicans that they have had enough of his candidacy and that, to harbour any realistic hopes of the party winning in November, Romney is the man for the job. The problem for GOP supporters is that they do not want to nominate him but they continue to have no real alternative to beating Obama.
Two leading fiscal conservatives stated their allegiances for the first time on Sunday, with Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, saying, "Mitt Romney is the man for this year." Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, described Romney as "best equipped to solve the urgent problems before us".
The validations came as the Romney campaign looked to consolidate its lead. A concerted effort was under way to turn slim primary victories into a momentum that makes nomination certain. For party officials, that day can't come soon enough.
"Over the next several days, you are likely to see more Republicans come forward," Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a Romney supporter, said in an interview on Sunday. "Timing-wise, it's got to the point that people are looking to coalesce around one candidate and take the fight to the Democrats."
Super Tuesday could be the end of the line. For Republicans across the nation, that is both the best and worst of times.