Thanks to a big win in Illinois on Tuesday and a top national endorsement, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is finally on a roll. The former Massachusetts governor has stutter-stepped toward the Republican nomination since January but a series of positive headlines have likely granted him the boost of momentum he needs to finish off his lingering competition.
In addition to a blowout victory in Puerto Rico last weekend and a 12-point triumph in Illinois on Tuesday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also announced his endorsement of Romney. Generally, endorsements, especially those on the national level, don't count for much. But Bush--the brother of President George W. Bush and son of President George H.W. Bush--is a widely respected conservative figure who had withheld his support during the Florida primary campaigning when the race was still unsettled.
In his endorsement statement, Bush essentially called for an end to the race.
"Primary elections have been held in thirty-four states, and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Gov. Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall," he said.
The Bush endorsement also could help provide Romney a bridge during the general election to Hispanic voters he may have alienated during the primary campaign. Romney has taken a harder line than his rivals when it comes to immigration policy, insisting that all of the approximately 10 million immigrants illegally in the United States should return to their home countries before applying for citizenship.
Bush, meanwhile, has been working to strengthen ties between the Republican Party and the Latino community. He has even said he supports the goals of the DREAM Act, legislation that would create a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who graduate from college or join the military.
Romney's path to the finish line won't be smooth, though. His top rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, has a wide lead in the next primary state, Louisiana, which weighs in on Saturday. Romney so far has serial problems with winning over evangelical and southern conservatives, who feel they can't trust him based on his more moderate record in Massachusetts and the label of "flip-flopper" that has stuck to him on issues such as abortion.
An illustration of Romney's weakness came on Wednesday, when a top Romney adviser likened the candidate to an Etch-A-Sketch. When asked on CNN if Romney was getting pushed too far to the right during the primary campaign to be competitive in the general election, Communications Director Eric Fehrnstrom said, "Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all of over again."
But even though his more conservative rivals have been quick to jump on the gaffe, Romney's amassed a likely insurmountable delegate lead and is about halfway to the 1,144 he needs to secure the nomination.