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Voters head to the polls in Mass. to pick GOP nominee

A voter entered a polling station to cast his ballot at the Lexington Avenue Fire House in Cambridge on Tuesday.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

A voter entered a polling station to cast his ballot at the Lexington Avenue Fire House in Cambridge on Tuesday.

Massachusetts voters are heading to the polls this morning to vote in a Republican presidential primary, joining voters in nine other states casting Super Tuesday ballots.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul are squaring off in the latest high-stakes round of what has been a grueling -- and sometimes nasty -- fight for the GOP nomination.

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Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who is still a Bay State resident, is poised to do well here today. Political observers are assuming Massachusetts is one of several states he will win handily; they’re focusing their attention on other states such as Ohio and Tennessee, where Romney faces a strong challenge from Santorum.

In Walpole this morning, some 50 people showed up at the town’s high school to cast their votes by 9 a.m.

Pam DaSilva, a private school administrator, said she voted for Romney, in part, because of his private sector success.

“He’s very strong in his economic philosophy and his experience and he will bring that experience to the White House,’’ DaSilva said. “I also believe he is a little less conservative on social issues, which appeals to me as an independent.’’

Ed Murphy, a professional recruiter, was also attracted to Romney’s candidacy by his business background. “I think we just need someone in the White House who’s got a little more of a stronger business background so we can figure out ways to raise (government) revenues without just using taxes,’’ he said.

But Sheila Harbst, 62, of Walpole, a regulatory support specialist, said she voted for Ron Paul because “I believe he stands for what I stand for, and of course I do not want Romney, Santorum or Gingrich.”

Offering the biggest single-day delegate haul of the nominating contest, the Super Tuesday primaries could be a crucial turning point.

Romney, who has been crisscrossing the country during this primary season, is registered to vote in Belmont, and he’s planning to cast his ballot at the Beech Street Senior Center shortly after 5 p.m. today. He’ll attend a party with supporters at the Westin Copley Place tonight.

The Democratic party is also holding a primary today in Massachusetts, but there’s no suspense about the outcome: President Barack Obama is running uncontested. And then there’s the Green-Rainbow Party, which is holding a primary featuring candidates Kent Meslay, Jill Stein, and Harley Mikkelsen.

The polls opened at 7 a.m. and will remain open until 8 p.m.

People enrolled in a particular party can only vote in that party’s primary. But unenrolled voters, who make up the majority of the state’s electorate, can vote in any of the primaries without having to commit to that party.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office says that as of Feb. 15, more than 4 million voters were registered in the state. Of those, 52 percent were unenrolled, 36 percent were Democrats, 11 percent were Republicans, and 0.12 percent were Green-Rainbow members.

Galvin has predicted that between 350,000 and 400,000 voters will cast ballots.

Globe correspondent Alli Knothe contributed to this report.

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