STEUBENVILLE - The once booming steel town that has seen more than its share of unemployment and recession woes in recent years has become a centerpiece for the Republican presidential battle for Ohio's 66 convention delegates.
Two weeks after Rick Santorum found an enthusiastic capacity crowd at Froehlich's Classic Corner restaurant the Republican candidate will return to Steubenville to await the results of the Super Tuesday primary elections.
Santorum may win the popular vote in the 6th Congressional District but will not collect any delegates from the district because his campaign failed to file enough signatures for delegates to the Republican primary.
But according to local Santorum organizer Michael Hernon, the former Pennsylvania senator insisted on returning to Steubenville for what may be the most important night of his presidential campaign.
His message of family values has played well in the community.
"He comes from a family of coal miners, he has a home in the Pittsburgh area and he feels welcome in Steubenville. This is where he wants to be Tuesday night," said Hernon.
Approximately a dozen people braved cold winds Sunday afternoon near the Sunset Boulevard and John Scott Highway intersection to hold Vote for Santorum signs and urge passing motorists to support the former Republican senator.
"Rick has found a strong Catholic connection in Steubenville. We are a community who likes what he says about the economy and the area residents are responsive to his politics," added Hernon.
A spokesperson for the Santorum campaign said the election night rally in the high school gymnasium is free and open to the public.
"Rick really feels at home in Steubenville. He told me Ohio is going to be the most important state in the Super Tuesday primaries. He felt at home when he campaigned here two weeks ago and wanted to return for this most important night," said Hernon.
"This will be a victory party because we are anticipating positive results from Ohio. The campaign has told me we can expect some special events and special guests during the Tuesday night rally," said Hernon.
Steubenville City Schools Superintendent Mike McVey said the Santorum campaign looked at the high school auditorium and gymnasium.
"They have told us to expect between 600 and 800 people at the event. They said they preferred the gymnasium," said McVey.
McVey said the facility will be rented to the campaign.
Jefferson County Republican Party Chairman Dr. Brian Wilson said the local organization remains neutral on the presidential primary race but sent out an e-mail Sunday urging area Republicans to welcome Santorum back to Steubenville.
"It is so exciting that he is returning to Steubenville. He so enjoyed visiting us last time that he wanted to come back. I think he feels at home here. Let's give him a big welcome," Wilson said.
"I know Sen. Santorum had a good response from area residents two weeks ago. I think he will do well in Jefferson County on Tuesday," noted Wilson.
Hernon said Santorum's blue collar roots and his Catholic faith make him a strong presidential candidate in Eastern Ohio.
Santorum was the only Republican presidential candidate to visit Jefferson County prior to Tuesday's primary election.