Romney in shift to the middle as he claims nomination


THE BATTLE for the US presidency entered a new phase when Mitt Romney declared the race for the Republican nomination over after winning five primary contests on Tuesday.

Mr Romney attended fundraisers in New York and New Jersey yesterday, while his campaign staff met to expand their operation from 100 to 400 employees, taking over a former furniture showroom on the ground floor of their headquarters in Boston. At the same time, Kevin Madden, who was Mr Romney’s spokesman during his 2008 campaign, began merging the Romney operation with Republican Party headquarters in Washington.

In the single biggest primary day since March 6th (Super Tuesday), Mr Romney won more than 60 per cent of the vote in New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut; and in the high 50 percentile range in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Yet, the Republican race has wound down anticlimactically, virtually ending two weeks ago when the former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum dropped out. Tuesday’s primaries gave Mr Romney some 230 delegates, bringing his total so far to more than 820 – within reach of the 1,114 delegates he needs to officially clinch the nomination.

Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told Mr Romney yesterday that he would suspend his presidential campaign next week and begin working to turn out conservative voters for Mr Romney and Republican candidates, Mr Gingrich’s spokesman said in an interview.

Mr Gingrich had previously said he would press ahead to the Republican National Convention this summer, where he hoped that conservative delegates would give him the nomination.

“After 43 primaries and caucuses ... I can say with confidence – and gratitude – that you have given me a great honour and solemn responsibility,” Mr Romney said, proclaiming himself the Republican nominee. “A better America begins tonight.”

The Romney campaign portrays President Barack Obama as a decent fellow who is out of his depth in the White House. Mr Romney made his victory speech not in one of the five states that voted on Tuesday, but in New Hampshire, a swing state where he owns a home and launched his campaign in June 2011.

“Four years ago Barack Obama dazzled us in front of Greek columns with sweeping promises of hope and change,” Mr Romney said, mocking Mr Obama’s nomination speech at the Democratic convention.

“But after we came down to earth, after all the celebration and parades, what do we have to show for three and a half years of President Obama? Is it easier to make ends meet? Is it easier to sell your home or buy a new one?

“Have you saved what you needed for retirement? Are you making more in your job? Do you have a better chance to get a better job? Do you pay less at the pump?”

Mr Romney told struggling Americans to “hold on a little longer” and predicted that Mr Obama “will run a campaign of diversions and distractions and distortions”. But he botched his punchline, a play on Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign speech, with a flat delivery when he said: “It’s still about the economy, and we’re not stupid.”

A Washington Post/ABC News poll published yesterday showed that 69 per cent of Americans have a favourable opinion of First Lady Michelle Obama; 56 per

cent a favourable opinion of the president. Ann Romney fares better than her husband, with a 40 per cent favourability rating, to Mr Romney’s 35 per cent.

The election is nonetheless expected to be close, because Mr Obama remains vulnerable on the economy.

A Gallup poll shows that Republicans have finally rallied around Mr Romney, with 88 per cent supporting him, compared to 91 per cent of Democrats who support Mr Obama.

On Tuesday and yesterday, the president gave speeches to college students in the swing states of Colorado and Iowa, and in North Carolina, which he was the first Democrat to win since 1976. Mr Obama won 66 per of the youth vote in 2008, and holds a 17 per cent lead over Mr Romney among 18-29-year-olds.

Mr Obama is asking congress to renew government subsidies to prevent interest on student loans rising from 3.4 per cent to 6.8 per cent on July 1st, a measure that will cost $6 billion annually.

The White House now portrays Mr Romney as a “severe conservative” – his own words – rather than a “flip-flopper”, for positions he adopted during the primaries. David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr Obama, said this week that Republicans in congress are “in thrall to this reign of terror from the far right”.

Already, Mr Romney shows signs of attempting to shift towards the middle. In a surprise move, he agreed with Mr Obama on keeping down the cost of student loans, and said he would consider senator Marco Rubio’s version of the Dream Act, which would grant legal status, though not citizenship, to some illegal immigrants. – (Additional reporting: New York Times)