Republican race: Victories put Mitt Romney a step closer to nomination
REPUBLICAN frontrunner Mitt Romney has sharpened his attack on the White House incumbent after taking another stride towards the nomination.
A run of victories in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia (DC) saw the former Massachusetts governor pull ahead of his rivals and firm up his position as the de facto challenger to Barack Obama.
Despite the refusal of fellow Republicans to bow out of the primary race gracefully, the wins further allow Mr Romney to refocus his well-funded campaign away from the primary and towards the presidency.
It is thought that with the Republican race all but sown up, the president’s campaign team will increasingly turn its guns on Mr Romney in a bid to better his re-election chances.
Until now, the White House incumbent has largely held back from singling out any one candidate for special attention.
But a twisting primary season looks finally to have settled down, with Mr Romney emerging as a frontrunner of such status that many are already labelling him the Republican presidential candidate.
Tuesday’s victories went some way to locking in that view further
Strong wins in Maryland and DC were topped off with a more competitive triumph in Wisconsin. Leading conservative challenger Rick Santorum had pinned his hopes on the religious right coming out in force in the state to revive his hopes, but he fell short, losing Wisconsin by a margin of 42 per cent to 38 per cent.
In all three votes, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and the libertarian-leaning Ron Paul trailed far behind the frontrunner.
Further pressure will now mount on Messrs Santorum, Gingrich and Paul to drop out so that Republicans can unite behind Mr Romney after a fractious primary fight.
The three-way win for the former Massachusetts governor puts him in a very strong position if he is to win the nomination outright.
He has now won the pledged support of 655 delegates, well on the way to the 1,144 needed to take the Republican White House nod.
Mr Santorum – his nearest rival – has just 278. For the former Pennsylvanian senator to steal the nomination he would need to win around 80 per cent of the remaining delegates available, a task thought to be nearing the impossible.
Despite the odds being stacked heavily against him, Mr Santorum refused to fall on his sword following the latest results.
Noting that the primary season was only half over as it turns to ballots including that of his home state, the conservative asked supporters: “Who’s ready to charge out of the locker room in Pennsylvania for a strong second half?”
He added that Republican voters should not bow to the wishes of party “elites”, who are calling for a speedy settlement on the nomination in favour of Mr Romney.
The frontrunner himself made little mention of his right-wing rivals in his victory speech.
Instead he attacked Mr Obama as an “out of touch” liberal, and criticised his record on jobs and the economy, the national debt, and oli prices.
“Four more years of that?” Mr Romney asked his supporters.
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