Signaling that he now considers the Republican presidential primary season over, a triumphant Mitt Romney returned Tuesday to New Hampshire — the site where he kicked off his campaign 10 months ago — to urge his supporters and those who backed his GOP rivals to rally behind his effort to defeat President Obama this fall.
The former Massachusetts governor, speaking to supporters in Manchester on a day when he swept all five GOP primaries, said Republican voters had handed him a “great honor and a solemn responsibility” — before launching into a stinging critique of Mr. Obama’s record.
“What do we have to show for 3½ years of President Obama?” Mr. Romney said. “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?”
The answer to those questions, is no, he said, and he predicted that Mr. Obama’s record will force him to resort to negative attacks in the run-up to the November election.
“That kind of campaign may have worked at another place and in a different time,” Mr. Romney said. “But not here and not now. It’s still about the economy, and we’re not stupid.”
The remarks represented the first time that Mr. Romney has openly and unequivocally claimed the party’s nomination, capping a day of primary contests that were largely viewed as perfunctory exercises marking the end of the rough-and-tumble Republican nomination battle and the beginning of the general election campaign.
Shortly after polls closed Tuesday night, the Associated Press projected Mr. Romney the winner in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
“Tonight is the start of a new campaign to unite every American who knows in their heart that we can do better. The last few years have been the best that Barack Obama can do, but it’s not the best America can do,” Mr. Romney said.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, defended the president’s record, while downplaying Mr. Romney’s victories as “not a surprise.
“Tonight, Mitt Romney spoke about building a ‘better America,’ but in fact, under Mitt Romney America would go back to the failed policies of the past,” the Florida Democrat said.
The landslide Romney victory in Delaware — he pulled in about 57 percent of the vote to Mr. Gingrich’s 27 percent — could prove to be a dagger to the heart of Newt Gingrich’s presidential dreams. The former House speaker, whose campaign is $4.3 million in debt, had pinned his hopes on a strong showing in the tiny state.
Speaking Tuesday at an election night event in North Carolina, Mr. Gingrich vowed to follow through with the 23 events he had planned in that Southern state ahead of its May 8 primary, while hinting that his days in the race could now be numbered.
“Gov. Romney is going to have a very good night, and it is a night he has worked for for six years,” he said, alluding to the fact that Mr. Romney ran in the 2008 election. “If he does end up as the nominee, I think every conservative in this country has to be committed to defeating Barack Obama.”
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, meanwhile, indicated this week he will keep campaigning against the status quo when it comes to monetary and foreign policy.
“You don’t quit the race just because you’re behind,” he said on CNBC. The libertarian icon continues to show the unique ability to draw massive crowds to campaign events, including in Philadelphia over the weekend. He has struggled, though, to translate that energy into success in primaries and caucuses.