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After months of styling himself as the inevitable nominee, Mitt Romney is finally poised to live up to his own hype. Sweeping victories last night in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington D.C. suggest that Romney is starting to shore up his support among Republican primary voters, even as his campaign is fueled by factors that seem to have little to do with his virtues as a candidate.
The key to Romney’s victory in Wisconsin, as it has been throughout the primary season, was his massive funding advantage. Restore Our Future, Romney’s super PAC, sank some $3 million into television ads in the state; Santorum had to make due with a comparatively modest $850,000 ad buy. The advertising blitz proved decisive, helping Romney to overturn an early deficit in the polls and swinging the race in his favor in the closing days. Of the 51 percent of Wisconsin voters who made up their minds in the last week, 51 percent ended up voting for Romney. High-profile endorsements, including backing from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a favorite of Wisconsin Republicans, also helped Romney’s cause in the Badger State.
Ads and endorsements aside, there were also signs that Romney benefited from the growing perception that he will be the last man standing. In Wisconsin, early exit polls showed that an overwhelming 80 percent of voters expected Romney to become the eventual nominee, even if they didn’t support him personally. In Maryland, nearly half of primary voters believed the same. The fact that Romney is increasingly drawing more support from Santorum-friendly constituencies like Tea Party members and evangelical Christians may be another indication that Republicans are ready for the race to be over.
So too is the Obama administration. New ads launched by the president’s re-election campaign in six swing states are now targeting Romney by name, and the president is now referring to him in his speeches, a clear sign that he considers Romney his likely opponent. Romney has responded in kind. In his victory speech last night, he hit out at “Barack Obama’s government-centered society,” a possible preview of his theme in the general election. Romney is also slated to form joint fundraising committees with the Republican National Committee, a sign that he has begun to shift focus to the major battle ahead. Even as he continues his quest for the nomination, Romney has begun acting like the nominee.
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