Romney on course for wins in three more primaries


WASHINGTON – Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney appeared to be on course last night for victory in three primaries, a result that would increase the pressure on rival Rick Santorum to drop out of the race.

As Republicans voted yesterday in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington DC, opinion polls gave Mr Romney a lead in all three.

The primaries are the latest contests in the grinding, months-long battle for the right to face Barack Obama on November 6th. A sweep of all three would underscore Mr Romney’s growing strength and probably increase appeals from party leaders for Republicans to rally behind him.

Practically, winning all three contests would give Mr Romney 95 more delegates and put him at well over half of the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination at the party’s convention in August.

It would also set the tone for the next big date on the campaign calendar, April 24th, when six states hold Republican presidential contests. Mr Romney leads in five of them and plans to make an aggressive push in the sixth, Mr Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania. Mr Romney travels there today.

Wisconsin was the most closely watched race of the trio voting yesterday. Mr Santorum had campaigned heavily in the state and had led in the polls until ceding the lead to Mr Romney in the last week or so.

Sensing that the nomination is in sight, Mr Romney has concentrated his fire not on his rivals but on Mr Obama over the president’s handling of the US economy.

While the economy has been showing signs of progress, Mr Romney says high unemployment, high poverty and burdensome regulations remain serious challenges that prove Mr Obama has been a failure.

Mr Obama’s campaign says Mr Romney is out of touch.

“You have a guy who wants to go back to the same policies that got us into this [economic] disaster,” campaign strategist David Axelrod said on CBS.

“He wants to cut taxes for the very wealthy, cut Wall Street loose to write its own rules and he thinks this somehow is going to produce broad prosperity for Americans. We’ve tested that – it’s failed.”

Mr Obama’s campaign released an ad this week targeting Mr Romney directly for backing oil companies and opposing higher mileage standards for vehicles.

If he does win the nomination, Mr Romney would face the challenge of defeating an incumbent president whose campaign operation is well funded, organised and eager to pounce on any misstep.

Mr Santorum wants to survive Wisconsin and the rest of April and move on to May, where the states that vote may be more favourable to him. He would have to win an overwhelming percentage of the remaining delegates to win the nomination outright.

However, he seems to have a different strategy: win enough delegates to deny outright victory to Mr Romney. This would force Republicans to choose their candidate at a “brokered” convention in Tampa, a chaotic scenario that many political experts believe could be disastrous to the party’s hopes.

Trying to appeal to blue-collar voters, Mr Santorum has held small campaign events in Wisconsin. He insists he is staying in the race and has been relentless in trying to brand Mr Romney as a moderate who would govern little differently than Obama.

Meanwhile, Mr Romney has benefited from the endorsement in Wisconsin of Paul Ryan, a popular conservative from the state.

The two men have appeared side by side at a number of campaign events, leading to news media speculation that Mr Ryan may be on Mr Romney’s short list for the vice-presidential nomination. – (New York Times service)