Mitt Romney seems to be moving inexorably toward his party’s presidential nomination.
Polls favor him going into Tuesday’s primary elections in Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Most primary elections through April are likely to continue Romney’s momentum toward winning the required number of convention delegates. And Republican leaders in Congress (and elsewhere) say it’s time for the party to get behind the front-runner.
“I think he is an excellent candidate and the chances are overwhelming that he will be our nominee,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It seems to me we are in the final phases of wrapping up this nomination…. It is in the best interest of our party to get behind the person who is obviously going to be our nominee and make the case against the president of the United States.”
Over the weekend, the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, Wisconsin’s largest newspaper, endorsed Romney as “by far the best choice for Republicans on Tuesday.”
But the newspaper endorsement was far from enthusiastic, describing the dwindling Republican field as “uninspired” – an opinion apparently held by many Republican voters along the trail of 2012 primary and caucus elections.
“We do wonder which Romney we'll see in the fall,” the editorial said. “Is it the Romney who favors a reasonable solution to the nation's broken health insurance system? Or – shake that Etch A Sketch – is it the Romney who blasts ‘Obamacare’? Is it the Romney who has a long history of working across the aisle with Democrats on a range of issues – the consummate, even-keeled manager who is good at running things? Or is it the Romney who can't help looking over his shoulder before making any decision to see if the tea party is brewing up a fight?”
In a way, such questions echo Rick Santorum’s main point about Romney: That he’s not a true conservative – “the same old, tired, establishment person” that GOP leaders are trying to “shove down our throat,” as he said Sunday
“This race isn’t even at half time yet, we haven’t even selected half of the delegates,” Santorum said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“The map in May looks good for us – Texas and Arkansas and West Virginia and North Carolina and Indiana, Kentucky,” Santorum insisted. “We have great states, where we are ahead in every poll in all of those states and if you listen to the folk in the country, stay in there, we need a conservative.”
(Pennsylvania, the state Santorum represented in Congress, may be an exception – although who knows? – Pennsylvanians tossed him out of the US Senate. Santorum’s wide margin in the polls there has become a virtual tie, reports the Washington Post, and “Romney supporters already are working just below the radar to tarnish Santorum in the Keystone State.”)
Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan (a young conservative who chairs the House Budget Committee and frequently is mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate), points out Santorum’s problem if he loses Tuesday in the Badger State.
“I think Rick would need something like 82 percent of the rest of the delegates, and that’s just not going to happen," Ryan said on CNN's "State of the Union."
"So if Mitt wins Wisconsin – and they also have Maryland and D.C. the same day – if he gets a big delegate count, which I think he’ll get, then we believe as conservatives we should coalesce around the nominee and focus at the task at hand, which is the fall election, and not drag this thing out which I think becomes counter-productive,” Ryan said.
In primary campaign politics, there’s always the chance of a major stumble or election surprise, and Romney’s optimism is cautious at this point.
"I have to tell you this. It feels better and better,” he told supporters in Madison Friday. “The support for my campaign is growing stronger and stronger. This was an uphill battle for me if you look back three or four weeks ago, and now we're looking like we're going to win this thing on Tuesday."