Romney close to Republican nomination after victories

MILWAUKEE Tue Apr 3, 2012 11:38pm EDT

1 of 16. U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters during his Wisconsin and Maryland primary night rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin April 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Hauck

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MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Mitt Romney made a big leap toward winning the Republican U.S. presidential nomination with a clean sweep of three primaries on Tuesday that handed a stinging defeat to chief rival Rick Santorum.

The victories in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C. will increase appeals from Republican party leaders for Santorum to quit so that Romney can gird for a difficult fight against President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.

In his victory speech in Milwaukee, Romney ignored Santorum and gave voters a sense of what the general election campaign will be like, sharply criticizing Obama for his handling of the U.S. economy and high gasoline prices.

"It's enough to make you think that years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers telling you what a great job you are doing, well, that might be enough to make you a little out of touch," Romney said.

In a clear sign that Obama sees Romney as his chief obstacle to re-election, the president singled him out by name and criticized him in a speech with a sharp partisan tone on Tuesday.

The trio of defeats puts conservative Santorum's campaign in serious trouble. He is badly trailing Romney in both delegates and fundraising.

"I think it's lights out for Santorum," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. "He can run a sideshow campaign for the next couple of months, but the spotlight is shining on Romney."

Santorum, a former Senator, vowed to stay in the race at least until April 24 when his home state of Pennsylvania votes and where he is hanging on to a lead in the polls over Romney.

PENNSYLVANIA KNOCKOUT?

That date looms as a potentially decisive one, with Romney likely to win five states that hold contests then and planning a big challenge to Santorum in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday's victories widened Romney's lead over Santorum in delegates to an estimated 640-264, according to CNN. Romney now has more than half of the 1,144 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination at the Republican convention in August.

Santorum wants to win enough delegates to deny his opponent an outright victory before the convention in Tampa.

"Who's ready to charge out of the locker room in Pennsylvania for a strong second half?" Santorum said to cheers in a speech after Tuesday's result. "This isn't half time. We're hitting the field. The clock starts tonight."

"We don't win by moving to the middle. We win by getting people in the middle to move to us and move this country forward," Santorum said.

A Quinnipiac University poll showed Santorum ahead of Romney in Pennsylvania by 41 to 35 percent, but the former private equity executive's campaign and its allies are likely to spend big on negative ads against Santorum in the coming weeks.

Obama hit out at Romney on Tuesday for backing a controversial Republican budget plan authored by a key Wisconsin backer of Romney, Congressman Paul Ryan.

"He said that he's very supportive of this new budget and he even called it 'marvelous,' which is a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing a budget," Obama said in a speech.

Romney fired back that Obama was trying to deflect blame for high gasoline prices that are hitting American wallets hard and could make Obama's re-election tougher to achieve.

"So the president put an ad out yesterday, talking about gasoline prices and how high they are. And guess who he blamed? Me!" Romney said in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

"Maybe after I'm president I can take responsibility for things I might have done wrong. But this president doesn't want to take responsibility for his mistakes."

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Sam Youngman, Deborah Charles and Lily Kuo; Editing by Alistair Bell and David Brunnstrom)

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Comments (19)
McBob08 wrote:
Conservatives; get this through your heads! The president is incapable of affecting gasoline prices. The prices are entirely under the control of the Petroleum Speculators on Wall Street. They are the ones driving the price ever higher, and short of Obama outlawing the Futures market entirely, there is nothing he can do to affect gas prices.

So stop pretending that he can!

Apr 03, 2012 9:21pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Wagonice wrote:
Can’t the media wait for the actual votes to be tallied before projecting a winner??? I know they’re usually right because of their exit polls, but seriously, have a little patience and report based on facts. I guess it’s even more important now than ever before to try to create an illusion that Romney is dominating the race. Let’s all coalesce around the inevitable nominee now even though Romney will run the country into the ground, albeit at a slower pace than Obama.

Apr 03, 2012 9:23pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
JimONeill wrote:
Romney blaming Obama for high gas prices is pretty much like Donald Trump blaming Rogaine for his hairdo.

Presidents do not decide gasoline prices. That is for sure.

Apr 03, 2012 9:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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