RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Perhaps it's fitting that the state that kept everyone up late last night, waiting for results, was Ohio. It's a swing state, and it seems every four years, in the fall, Ohio becomes the center of attention in a presidential election.
This year, as NPR's Tamara Keith reports, it just happened a little earlier.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Talk to Ohio voters - Republicans and Democrats alike - and there's one issue that rises above all the others.
MARVIN HAYWOOD: Number one: our economy.
BOBBI PENN: And, of course, the economy because a lot of people are still suffering.
SANDY BUCHWALTER: What are you going to do for the economy? What are you going to do to improve the quality of life for everyone?
KEITH: That was Marvin Haywood and Bobbi Penn - both Republicans - and Sandy Buchwalter, a Democrat. In exit polls yesterday, the top issue for Ohio voters was the economy. And by a lot, says Michael Dimock, associate director of the Pew Research Center.
MICHAEL DIMOCK: The way they ask the question is, they say: Which of these four issues was most important to you? It's 54 percent, economy; 26 percent, the budget deficit - which is another economic issue; 11 percent, abortion; and 5 percent, immigration.
KEITH: For James Brock, an economics professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, this is all a bit surprising.
JAMES BROCK: It's just not that horrible.
KEITH: The unemployment rate in Ohio is lower than the national average, and Brock says the state has recovered faster than the country as a whole.
BROCK: Sure, there are pockets of pain. There's no question about that. There are certain counties and areas that are pretty hard-pressed. But if you look across the board statewide, it's hard to make a credible case that things are terrible right now. In fact, quite the contrary - things are getting better.
KEITH: Even so, eight months from now, Pew's Dimock still expects the economy to be an issue here in Ohio, and the subject of attacks on President Obama.
DIMOCK: The public is still very uncertain and uneasy about their own situation, and the nation's situation.
KEITH: Ohio is such a closely divided state, that come November, voter enthusiasm may prove as decisive as anything else. And Dimock says exit polls from yesterday shine a light on a potential problem for the GOP.
DIMOCK: In Ohio, only 44 percent of the voters in this primary said they strongly back their candidate. That's a pretty lukewarm feeling for people who got out to the polls on an election day.
KEITH: One of those lukewarm voters is Carlo Capaldi, from Steubenville.
CARLO CAPALDI: Out of them all, that's the pick I made.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KEITH: That pick was Rick Santorum, who came in a close second in statewide voting. But Capaldi's lack of enthusiasm is palpable.
CAPALDI: Basically, out of the available choices, that was the one I picked - for no reason other than, best choice out of the ones that were there.
KEITH: Eventually, this pool of candidates will most likely produce a nominee. And Dimock says a big, outstanding question - not given any new clarity by last night's results - is how enthusiastic Republican voters will be in the fall.
DIMOCK: I think the risk here is that not only is - have the candidates not really inspired the Republicans yet, but the bruising campaign might sort of deflate them further.
KEITH: And it may not just deflate Republicans. Independents often make the difference in the November outcome, and they've been inundated with the same negative campaign ads as everyone else.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.