With his big victory in Illinois Tuesday, Mitt Romney may have finally cemented his position as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Romney immediately pivoted to an attack on President Obama, and Romney's aides urged the GOP to unite behind him.
"For 25 years, I lived and breathed business, the economy, and jobs," Romney told a victory rally in Schaumburg, Ill. "I had successes and failures, but each step of the way I learned a little more about what it is that makes our American system so powerful."
In contrast, he said, Barack Obama was teaching law and serving as a community organizer in Chicago. "The simple truth is that this president just doesn't understand the genius of the American economy—or the secret of the American economic success story," Romney said.
He added: "This election will be about principle. Our economic freedom will be on the ballot. I'm offering a real choice and a new beginning."
In Illinois, Romney won 47 percent of the vote to 35 percent for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, his closest competitor. Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 9 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had 8 percent. Romney took at least 41 of the 54 nominating delegates directly at stake in the primary, based on network television and wire service estimates. Santorum was expected to win about 10 delegates.
The outcome gave Romney 562 delegates out of 1,144 needed for the nomination, a huge lead over Santorum's 249, Gingrich's 137 and Paul's 69, according to CNN. Romney has won 16 of the 27 states to hold nominating contests so far, including the big, diverse Midwestern states of Michigan, Ohio and now Illinois.
Romney is expected to lose the Louisiana primary Saturday, reflecting his weakness among conservatives and evangelicals in the South. And he may yet stumble elsewhere, such as in Wisconsin next month. But his strong national organization, his huge campaign treasury, and his experience in running for president have given him, finally, an aura of inevitability as the GOP nominee to challenge President Obama this fall.
Romney, a former venture capitalist who was governor of Massachusetts for one term, argues, above all, that he has the expertise to fix the economy.
He still has serious vulnerabilities, including an inability to connect with everyday Americans and show that he understands their problems, according to the polls. And he is still having trouble appealing to the most conservative voters in the Republican party, who have split their support among Santorum, Gingrich and Paul.
Meanwhile, Romney has moved to a powerful lead, amassing delegates by winning states outright and collecting delegates even in states that he loses but where proportional allocation gives each candidate a bloc of delegates based on the popular vote.