To be sure, Romney continues to face challenges of his own.
He was at his best as a candidate after Gingrich won South Carolina and appeared to be a real threat going into Florida and beyond. Romney quickly retooled his approach, sharpening his attacks on Gingrich on the campaign trail and in two back-to-back debates.
But without a strong rival, Romney's weaknesses as a candidate and his propensity for gaffes become magnified.
With the recession-weary public still angry at Wall Street and big business, Romney has struggled to explain how the millions he made while running the private equity firm Bain Capital make him a plausible job creator.
He made an eye-popping unforced error this week, telling CNN "I'm not concerned about the very poor." He went on to explain himself, saying those most in need can rely on social programs and that he wants to champion the middle class instead.
But the comment, coming from a man of such immense wealth, struck a sour note — particularly as he campaigned into Nevada, which has the highest unemployment and home foreclosure rates in the country.
Romney attempted to clarify his remark later, saying he "misspoke." But Gingrich has already used it as an attack line, as have Democrats working to weaken Romney.
Still, Romney's position coming out of Nevada is strong and getting stronger.
"When you match this up with Florida, it may well mean this is the beginning of the triumphant march to the nomination," said Galen, the GOP strategist.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Beth Fouhy covers national politics for The Associated Press.
Follow Fouhy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bfouhy
An AP News Analysis
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