- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2012

Mitt Romney, campaigning Monday with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, told Pennsylvania supporters that while Tuesday’s Republican primary is important, next fall’s showdown with President Obama is the real battle.

“You are going to help get me the support I need tomorrow. But the key support I need is to work over the summertime to get your friends to look at how critical this election is — to make sure we maintain the greatness of America, which flows from our people, not our government,” the presumptive Republican nominee told a crowd gathered for at a town hall meeting at a local trucking company in Aston.

Voters in five Northeastern states — Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — head to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots for one of the three remaining candidates in the Republican race: the front-running Mr. Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

The storyline heading into the contests changed dramatically this month after Pennsylvania native son Rick Santorum, who had emerged as Mr. Romney’s biggest rival, pulled the plug on his presidential bid, clearing the path for the former Massachusetts governor.

Mr. Rubio’s decision to appear with and introduce Mr. Romney to the town hall meeting Monday only added to the sense of inevitability surrounding the Romney campaign — while also stoking speculation about Mr. Rubio as a Romney running mate.

“I am honored and privileged to be here with the next president of the United States — and I’m glad to be here in one of the states that’s going to put him over the top,” Mr. Rubio told the crowd, before arguing that the unemployment lines, national debt and housing market are worse because of Mr. Obama.

“He is no longer a theory, Barack Obama is a reality and for millions of Americans today, life is worse than it was three years ago because he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” the first-term Florida senator said.

The comments were a clear indication of how the GOP has started to coalesce around Mr. Romney since Mr. Santorum left the race.

Mr. Romney was joined by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who backed former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. earlier in the campaign, at an event outside Pittsburgh in the morning.

Mr. Romney also picked up an endorsement from former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who just months ago described Mr. Romney as the kind of “man who will say anything to become president.”

Mr. Giuliani changed his tune Monday, arguing the ex-Bay State governor provides a “clear contrast to President Obama.”

While Mr. Romney looks ahead to his general election matchup with Mr. Obama, his two remaining rivals in the race keep chugging along.

Despite racking up $4.3 million in campaign debt, Mr. Gingrich has focused his attention on the 17 delegates up for grabs in Delaware, where he’s recently picked up a few notable Republican endorsements, including one from Terry Spence, a former speaker of the Delaware House, and one from Kent County Republican Party chairman Hans Reigle, who switched his endorsement from Mr. Romney.

Mr. Gingrich has said he is in the race until Mr. Romney secures the 1,144 delegates needed to officially win the nomination ahead of the Republican National Convention this summer in Tampa, Fla.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, meanwhile, continues to draw large crowds to his rallies, including, by his campaign’s count, the more than 4,000 on hand at an event over the weekend on Independence Mall in Philadelphia.

But the big rallies have not translated into big turnouts at the ballot box or a win in a single state, leaving the libertarian icon sitting dead last in the delegate count.

Speaking in Aston on Monday, Mr. Romney focused his attacks on Mr. Obama.

“This president has been anti-jobs, anti-investment, anti-growth,” he said. “We are going to make sure that type of anti-business approach is over in the White House.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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