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.
Mr. Romney, buoyed by growing signs that Republicans are coalescing around his candidacy, has in recent days focused his rhetoric on Mr. Obama.
He's also tasked Beth Myers, a longtime adviser, with leading his search for a potential running mate, even stumping with some of the potential candidates, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who campaigned with the front-runner this week in the Philadelphia suburbs.
With a virtually insurmountable lead in convention delegates over the two remaining Republican contenders, Mr. Romney has circled back to the economy and the "Barack Obama has failed America" message that he opened his campaign with last summer.
He also has showed signs of tacking to the middle on some issues, basically endorsing Mr. Obama's call to reduce student-loan interest rates for college students and keeping the door open to the possibility of supporting a Dream Act proposal being drafted by Mr. Rubio that would create a pathway to legal status, but not citizenship, for some children of illegal immigrants.
Mr. Romney's emergence as the presumptive winner of what was once a crowded Republican field became clear earlier this month when he easily defeated former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania in the Wisconsin primary — part of a three-contest sweep that included the District of Columbia and Maryland.
Mr. Santorum, a steadfast social conservative, initially vowed to fight on at least until Pennsylvania. But days later, he suspended his campaign after it became clear that his fundraising was drying up and that he could lose his old political backyard again, having lost the state by 18 points in his 2006 Senate re-election bid.
Mr. Santorum's exit paved the way for Mr. Romney to sew up the nomination before the Republican National Convention this summer in Tampa, Fla.
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