Mitt Romney’s five-state primary sweep on Tuesday solidified him as the Republican choice to challenge President Barack Obama in November—a transition that even challenger Newt Gingrich can’t ignore.
“It’s pretty clear Governor Romney is going to be the nominee,” the former House Speaker said in a speech to supporters in Gaston County, N.C., on Wednesday. Gingrich did not formally suspend his campaign.
The former Massachusetts governor won easily in Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and New York—Northeastern states that were all but assured after his main rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, suspended his run two weeks ago.
Romney claimed the Republican nomination in a victory speech Tuesday night.
“Tonight I can say ‘Thank you, America,'” Romney told an enthusiastic audience of supporters in New Hampshire. “After 43 primaries and caucuses, many long days and more than a few long nights, I can say with confidence—and gratitude—that you have given me a great honor and solemn responsibility. And together, we are going to win on Nov. 6.”
Indicating that he would now shift focus to the general election, Romney said, “A better America begins tonight,” targeting his comments at President Obama.
Romney said Obama might be appealing on the campaign trail, but has failed as a leader. “Because he has failed, he will run a campaign of diversions and distractions and distortions. That kind of campaign may have worked at another place and in a different time—but not here and not now,” he said.
Recycling Bill Clinton’s 1992 political catch phrase—but with a Romney twist—he added, “It’s still about the economy, and we’re not stupid.”
Romney won soundly on Tuesday, and with the additional 209 delegates from the five states, his total count is now close to 700 delegates. Still short, however, of the 1,144 needed to officially clinch the nomination.
While his wins were mostly expected, Mitt Romney’s near 30-point win over Gingrich in Delaware was a defining moment for the former House Speaker’s campaign.
While Romney had largely ignored the tiny state and its 17 delegates, Gingrich—with just two wins: South Carolina and his home state of Georgia—saw Delaware as an opportunity to boost his flagging campaign.
He campaigned heavily in the tiny state and gained some strong Delaware endorsements, in the lead-up to Tuesday’s primary.
Delaware’s state Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson announced his endorsement of Gingrich the week before, as had state Sen. Colin Bonini, influential among the more conservative Republicans.
On Monday, Priscilla Rakestraw, the longest-serving member of the Republican National Committee, announced she was retracting her earlier endorsement of Romney and instead supporting Gingrich.
While her surprise switch has been credited to a move by conservatives to unseat her from the committee in the state’s upcoming GOP convention, the endorsements fueled Gingrich’s campaign.
“We are very optimistic,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond had told Politico. “Voters in Delaware, like many of the delegates being selected at county and state conventions, want a conservative nominee.”
The Real World
Romney’s clean sweep on Tuesday and the thumping in Delaware could be the final straw for the Gingrich campaign.
“I think you have to, at some point, be honest with what’s happening in the real world, as opposed to what you’d like to have happened,” Gingrich said at the Gaston County GOP meeting.
In a conciliatory tone, Gingrich acknowledged Romney’s success. “Governor Romney had a very good day yesterday. He got 67 [percent] in one state, and he got 63 in other, 62 in another,” he said. “Now you have to give him some credit. I mean this guy’s worked 6 years, put together a big machine, and has put together a serious campaign.”
In typical Gingrich style, however, he drew the line at diminishing his own candidacy, saying, “I think obviously that I would be a better candidate, but the objective fact is the voters didn’t think that.” And in a mark of things to come, he added, “And I also think it’s very, very important that we be unified.”
The Gingrich campaign has events booked in advance in North Carolina and had hoped to continue to the North Carolina primary May 8. His campaign, however, is already $4.5 million in debt, and reportedly made severe cuts to staff, according to The Atlantic.
With the loss in Delaware, Gingrich said he would continue to campaign in North Carolina through the week “as a citizen.”
“We’re working out the details of our transition and we’ll have information for the press in the next couple of days,” he told reporters.
Gingrich has not elaborated further but one adviser, speaking to CNN on the condition of anonymity, explained. “When he says he is transitioning, what he means is that he is trying to determine as a citizen how he will proactively help Mitt Romney become president and the Republican Party win back the Senate and help [House Speaker] John Boehner keep his majority in the House.”
If and when Gingrich does suspend his campaign, it will leave Texas Rep. Ron Paul as Romney’s only GOP challenger. To date, Rep. Paul has not won a single state, but says he has no intention of suspending his campaign. “You don’t quit because you happen to be behind,” he said on CNBC. “Maybe somebody will stumble.”