Mitt Romney collected endorsements from an ex-president and one of the GOP’s biggest up-and-coming stars this week as powerhouse Republicans said the race for the party’s nomination is essentially over and urged voters to get behind the former Massachusetts governor.
The moves came as one opponent, Newt Gingrich, was laying off campaign staff, and as Mr. Gingrich and Rick Santorum were testing out new creative ways of raising money for their struggling campaigns — all signs that the long Republican contest may be winding down.
“I do think it’s time for the party to get behind Gov. Romney,” he said.
The endorsements coincide with polls that show voters also are moving in Mr. Romney’s direction ahead of some of the most anticipated upcoming contests on the nomination calendar. Heading into Tuesday’s primary in Wisconsin, the former Massachusetts governor holds a double-digit lead. And he’s nipping on the heels of Mr. Santorum in Mr. Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania, which votes April 24.
In the hunt for the 1,144 delegates needed to sew up the nomination before the Republican National Convention this summer in Tampa, Fla., the Associated Press count has Mr. Romney at 568, more than his Republican rivals combined. Mr. Santorum has 273; Mr. Gingrich, 135; and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, 50.
Mr. Romney’s rivals, though, are clinging to the idea that they can block him from capturing the magic number of delegates, triggering a convention floor fight that could open the door to the nomination.
But that message apparently isn’t resonating with voters. A CNN poll released this week found a majority of Republicans would like to see Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul call it quits, while almost four in 10 voters said Mr. Santorum should drop out.
On Wednesday, Mr. Rubio said a floor fight at the convention was a “recipe to deliver four more years to Barack Obama and our country — forget about the Republican Party — our country cannot afford that. We have got to come together behind who I think has earned this nomination and that’s Mitt Romney.”
Patrick Griffin, senior fellow at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, said that Mr. Romney’s rivals are going through the usual stages of grief that often accompany dying political campaigns.
“They are preparing to accept the undeniable here,” Mr. Griffin said.
He added that there is more of a sense among Republicans that President Obama is vulnerable, especially after this week’s open-microphone incident where the president could be heard telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” after the election to work with Russia on missile-defense plans.
Former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, a Republican, said the sooner the party gets behind Mr. Romney, the better because the race is driving up the candidate’s negatives. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this week showed half of those surveyed now hold unfavorable views of the GOP front-runner.
“Rather than helping the party, it has proved to be divisive and hurt with independents,” Mr. Davis, a Romney supporter, said of the grind-it-out race. “The adults are now stepping into the sandbox and saying, ‘Let’s get cleaned up and go after the real game.’ “
Some Republicans argue the primaries have strengthened Mr. Romney’s candidacy in the same way a rugged primary challenge from Hillary Rodham Clinton helped Mr. Obama in 2008, but G. Terry Madonna of the Franklin and Marshall Center for Politics said there’s a big difference.
“I think there is a growing realization … that this battle has to end. That with each passing week it has gotten personal, it’s gotten divisive,” Mr. Madonna said.
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