After clinching the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday in Texas, Mitt Romney has emerged from a bloody primary slog running neck-and-neck with President Obama — putting him in the exact same position as the last two Republicans to lead their party into the general election.
"I am humbled to have won enough delegates to become the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee," Mr. Romney said after easily taking the Texas primary. "Whatever challenges lie ahead, we will settle for nothing less than getting America back on the path to full employment and prosperity."
With the Texas win, the campaign that had struggled to catch fire is suddenly on a hot streak.
Five months before Election Day, the former Massachusetts governor is nipping at Mr. Obama's heels in national polls and is generally viewed as the more trusted candidate when it comes to strengthening the nation's economy, which has been the consuming issue for voters this campaign season.
On the flip side, Mr. Obama is better funded and holds a higher favorability rating, and more of his supporters say they're fired up about his candidacy. To top it off, Mr. Romney is playing catch-up in most swing states.
"The Republican Party is firmly behind him, and he doesn't need to worry anymore about the base, but he has been damaged a little bit with swing voters who are going to end up deciding the election," said Tom Jensen, director of Democrat-leaning survey firm Public Policy Polling. "Romney's biggest obstacle is that he has very little margin for error in the Electoral College."
Based on his current surveys, Mr. Jensen said that Mr. Obama can comfortably count on winning enough states to get to about 260 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term. Under that scenario, Mr. Romney has little wiggle room. He would have to sweep North Carolina and Florida, where he is up, and emerge victorious in Virginia, Ohio and Colorado, where Mr. Obama sits in front.
Republicans, though, say the map looks better, and Mr. Romney's economic message can put other states in play. They've also been pleased with his performance since it became clear that he would be the party's nominee in April.
"My sense is that three months ago, people were questioning whether Gov. Romney could deliver the knockout punch, and now they are now very pleasantly pleased with how strong a campaign he is running," said Steve Duprey, a Republican national committeeman from New Hampshire. "The evidence of that is you hear the chattering class within the Beltway talking about the fact that this is a real race, and Gov. Romney could win."
Mr. Duprey said that the Romney camp "opened a lot of eyes" after it announced last week that it had, along with the Republican National Committee, raised $40.1 million last month, putting it just shy of the $43.6 million raised by Mr. Obama and the Democratic National Committee. Still, Mr. Romney is at a significant disadvantage when it comes to cash on hand: $9.2 million, compared with Mr. Obama's $115 million.
But Republican faithful say they're also buoyed by the discipline displayed by the Romney campaign in recent weeks.
"They're on message, focusing like a laser on making the president's stewardship of the economy the issue," Mr. Duprey said. "Every time the president's campaign has tried an attack line, whether it is the 'war on women' or that being a capitalist doesn't give you the experience to be president, they have come back with a quick and equally hard counterattack."
Handicapping the race this far from Election Day is tricky business.
At this point in 2008, Mr. Obama held a slim 2-point edge over Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and went on to win the race. Four years earlier, Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, held a razor-thin lead over then-President George W. Bush, but lost.
Republicans will officially nominate Mr. Romney in late August at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Mr. Romney began his day Tuesday by pounding home his economic message at a campaign stop in a small town in northwest Colorado, dinging the president for his record on job creation and for casting business as the enemy.
"We're not the enemy," he said. "Some of these liberals say they like a strong economy, but then they act like they don't like business. An economy is nothing but the collection of all of our businesses together. I want our government to support small business, middle-sized business, big business. I want jobs, I want government that is an ally of business, not an enemy of business."
Mr. Romney also was scheduled to hold an evening campaign event in Las Vegas, as well as a fundraiser featuring New York real estate magnate Donald Trump and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who dropped out of the GOP race earlier this month.
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