Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney swept a trio of Republican presidential nominating contests tonight, coasting to victories in Maryland and Washington, DC, and notching another Midwestern triumph in Wisconsin. The cacophony declaring this race over is all but certain to kick into high gear ahead of the April 24 primaries. In Maryland, Romney dominated with almost every major demographic, even tying Rick Santorum among self-identified "very conservative" voters and evangelicals -- group Romney has struggled to attract in other states. Maryland Republicans overwhelmingly said the ability to defeat Barack Obama in a general election was their top priority in selecting a candidate. Among this large plurality, Romney won 72 percent. Those numbers added up to a blow-out. The race that received the most media scrutiny was Wisconsin, where Santorum was at least within striking distance. Romney turned in a fairly strong performance, winning the state and carrying most crucial cohorts: Men, women, voters of all income levels, Republicans, Independents, "very" and "somewhat" conservative voters, moderates, and Tea Party supporters. As he did in Maryland, Romney cleaned up among Wisconsinites who said beating the president is their most important criterion. Flanked by prominent endorser Rep. Paul Ryan, a triumphant Romney -- perhaps finally sensing the nomination is at hand -- used his victory speech to fire back at the president's truly atrocious speech from earlier today:
Under this President's watch, more Americans have lost their jobs than during any other period since the Depression. Millions have lost their homes, and a record number of Americans are living in poverty. And the most vulnerable have been hurt the most - over 30% of single moms are struggling in poverty. New business startups are at the lowest level in 30 years, and our national debt is at a record high. And when you drive home tonight and stop at a gas station, just take a look at the prices and ask yourself, "Four more years?" … It's enough to make you think that years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of True Believers telling you what a great job you are doing, well, that might be enough to make you a little out of touch.
In Barack Obama’s Government-Centered Society, the government must do more because the economy is doomed to do less. When you attack business and vilify success, you will have less business and less success. And then, of course, the debate becomes about how much to extend unemployment insurance because you have guaranteed there will be millions more unemployed. In Barack Obama’s Government-Centered Society, tax increases become not only a necessity, but also a desired tool for social justice. In that world of shrinking means, there’s a finite amount of money, and as someone once famously said, you need taxes to spread the wealth around. In Barack Obama’s Government-Centered Society, government spending will always increase because…there’s no reason to stop it. There’s always someone who is entitled to something more, and who will vote for anyone who will give them something more.
We know where that transformation leads. There are other nations that have chosen that path. It leads to chronic high unemployment, crushing debt, and stagnant wages. Sound familiar? I don’t want to transform America; I want to restore the values of economic freedom and opportunity and limited government that have made this nation the leader it is.
See if you can spot the effective new attack line Romney is test-driving. Meanwhile, the Santorum campaign continues to say they're not budging, but he's facing another harrowing slate three weeks from tonight. As I wrote last week, the Pennsylvanian is likely to drop at least four of the five states that vote on April 24th, and things may even be getting a little hairy in his home state. As we've said at every stage, this race is about amassing enough delegates to win the Republican nod outright. Tonight's trifecta places Romney comfortably beyond the halfway mark to 1,144, with all of his competitors languishing far behind. Stay tuned for the final delegate count coming out of this evening's contests -- it's going to be another crooked number in Romney's favor. President Obama is in full-blown general election mode, taking shots and running ads against Mitt Romney. Are national Republicans ready to put this opening act in the rearview mirror and move on to the main event?
UPDATE - As of 10:30pm ET, the Associated Press' delegate scoreboard is 76-0 for Romney, among DC, Maryland and Wisconsin. Santorum may get on the board with a Congressional District or two, but this is a heavy blow.
UPDATE II - The Wednesday morning margins:
Wisconsin - Romney 42, Santorum 38, Paul 12, Gingrich 6
Maryland - Romney 49, Santorum 29, Gingrich 11, Paul 10
Washington, DC - Romney 70, Paul 12, Gingrich 11
NBC hears the delegate fat lady warming up:
After last night’s sweep, the writing’s on the wall: Romney, unless the extraordinary occurs, is going to be the GOP nominee… And Santorum isn’t going to win… Updated delegate count: Romney 573, Santorum 212, Gingrich 137, Paul 34
UPDATE III - The final numbers. A landslide:
Mitt Romney has won 86 [out of 95] delegates for sweeping Republican presidential primaries in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, adding to a lead that appears insurmountable. Romney won all 37 delegates in Maryland and all 16 delegates in the District of Columbia. Romney won 33 delegates in Wisconsin, where his chief rival, Rick Santorum, got the other nine. Romney now has 658 delegates, putting him on pace to reach the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination by early June.