Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney tightened his grip on the nomination on Tuesday with a sweep of the primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia, tells The New York Times.
What is more important, he found himself in his first direct engagement with President Obama, an unmistakable signal that the general election would not wait for internal Republican politics.
Delovering his victory speech in Milwaukee, Romney ignored Santorum and sharply criticized Obama for his handling of the U.S. economy and high gasoline prices, reports Reuters.
“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,” said Romney.
According to The Telegraph, Mr Romney sought to marshal both businesses and families against the President’s model of interventionist government.
“In Barack Obama’s Government-Centred Society, the government must do more because the economy is doomed to do less,” he told a cheering crowd in Milwaukee. “When you attack business and vilify success, you will have less business and less success.”
In Wisconsin, Mr. Romney led among strong Tea Party supporters and ran closely with Rick Santorum among those who consider themselves to be very conservative and among evangelical Christians, according to exit polls.
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. He said he would continue to compete for voters who “have yet to be heard” in the coming primaries.
If to speak about other candidates, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has been relegated a non-factor, and Newt Gingrich is making little attempt to give the impression he is running a serious campaign — though vowing to remain in the race nonetheless, says The Huffington Post.
Romney now has more than half of the 1,144 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination at the Republican convention in August. According to The Associated Press’s delegate tally, Mr. Romney now has 646 delegates, Mr. Santorum has 272, Newt Gingrich has 135 and Representative Ron Paul has 51.
The party establishment is coalescing around Romney. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Paul Ryan both endorsed Romney and are expected at his celebration Tuesday night.
Earlier in the day, Mr Romney received perhaps his strongest endorsement yet for the Republican nomination: that of the President Obama.
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.
“He said that he’s ‘very supportive’ of this new budget,” Mr. Obama said of Mr. Romney while speaking at a meeting of editors and reporters in Washington.
Then Mr. Obama added, “And he even called it ‘marvelous,’ which is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget; it’s a word you don’t hear generally.”
Until now The White House had been content to watch the Republican race unfold on its own, and let Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney batter each other without its help. But on Tuesday Mr. Obama’s aides decided to take their engagement to a new level.
The New York Times reports that the president will not directly confront Mr. Romney every day, aides said. That responsibility will largely be left to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the re-election campaign.
On Tuesday, as well as slamming Romney for backing a controversial budget plan advanced by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, Obama’s campaign also aired its first television ad attacking Romney, for supporting oil companies.
Romney responded to the president’s attack saying 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.
“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.”
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.
“Tonight, I’m asking the good people of Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island to join me. Join me in the next step toward that destination of November 6th, when across America we can give a sigh of relief and know that the Promise of America has been kept,” said Romney after the victory in Wisconsin.
But even if Rick Santorum wins Pennsylvania primary, his string of losses is quickly stripping it of importance. On the same day, voters in New York, Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut also will go to the polls. It means that Romney is poised to win the delegate battle that night regardless of Santorum’s performance in Pennsylvania.