Mitt Romney rode a wave of high-profile endorsements to victories over Rick Santorum in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington D.C. on Tuesday.
“We won them all!” Romney said to jubilant supporters in Milwaukee.
Only Wisconsin, where Santorum led polls just weeks ago, was considered competitive. The GOP there is currently preoccupied with Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) impending recall election, making the presidential race a sideshow, but Romney’s usual spending dominance and a growing sense of inevitability helped hand him a win.
“We’ve now reached the point where it’s halftime,” Santorum declared to supporters Tuesday night. “Who’s ready to charge out of the locker room in Pennsylvania for a strong second half?’
Romney’s nowhere near the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination and Santorum’s campaign is pledging to go all the way to convention, talking up far-off states like Texas at the end of May. Santorum’s next shot at a winnable race will be his home state of Pennsylvania on April 24, a date that also includes several Northeastern states where Romney is expected to dominate.
But the race could be effectively over by that point unless something changes fast. Romney has a commanding delegate lead and is quickly solidifying his position with the GOP establishment. Big-name Republicans who had carefully stayed neutral to this point finally came off the fence on his behalf in recent days, including Florida’s Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), GOP budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and former President George H.W. Bush. Enthused or not, Republican voters seem resigned to his win as well, with majorities telling pollsters in recent days that they expect him to emerge as the nominee.
“Tonight, Wisconsinites have spoken,” Ryan said, introducing Romney at his victory celebration. “Republicans are unifying.”
Still Santorum isn’t going down without a fight, running perhaps his toughest ad yet against Romney this week comparing the frontrunner to President Obama.
“We don’t win by moving to the middle,” Santorum said Tuesday. “We win by getting people in the middle to move to us and move this country forward.”
The president’s re-election team, meanwhile, is already according Romney the courtesy of a presumptive nominee by targeting him directly in ads and speeches. President Obama unleashed some of his hardest attacks against Romney and the GOP in a speech Tuesday, whom he said are advocating “Social Darwinism” by adopting Ryan’s proposal to cut taxes for the wealthy and while dramatically reducing spending on social programs.
Romney rebutted his speech on Tuesday night while avoiding any mention of Santorum, dismissing “Barack Obama’s government-centered society.”
“Out-of-touch liberals like Barack Obama say they want a strong economy, but they really don’t like businesses very much,” Romney said.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.