By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans in the District of Columbia, in Wisconsin and in Maryland gave Mitt Romney a trio of wins Tuesday that put him closer to clinching his party's presidential nomination. We learned a few things, too:
Republicans increasingly view Romney as their nominee.
Four in five Wisconsin voters expect that the former Massachusetts governor will eventually win the 1,144 delegates needed to face off against President Barack Obama in the fall election, according to exit poll results. And about two-thirds of all Wisconsin Republicans said they would be satisfied with Romney as the nominee.
That's good news for a presumptive nominee who has struggled to energize the party and win over the conservative core of the GOP. In Wisconsin, Romney won among very conservative Republicans, middle-class voters and noncollege graduates who had previously been chief rival Rick Santorum's base. Romney also narrowed his margin among self-identified evangelical voters, who remains with Santorum but will likely vote Republican come November.
Obama also expects Romney to prevail.
Even before Tuesday's results were known, the president returned to campaign form in a speech to news executives. Obama assailed Romney as though he had already won the nomination, following up on a critical TV ad the re-election campaign rolled out a day earlier. On Tuesday night, Obama's campaign manager also sent an email to supporters tying Romney to "giant oil companies" and "their record profits."
"They and their allies are trashing President Obama — and spending $3 million on TV ads to do it," campaign chief Jim Messina warned Obama supporters of energy companies. "Why? Because, unlike Mitt Romney, President Obama is proposing to end their taxpayer giveaways."
Romney is focusing on the general election.
He never once mentioned his GOP rivals in his remarks. He instead focused on Obama, his likely rival in November.
"Out-of-touch liberals like Barack Obama say they want a strong economy, but they really don't like businesses very much," Romney said in Milwaukee. "But the economy is simply the product of all the nation's businesses added together. So it's like saying you love omelets but don't like eggs."
He added: "Join me. And take another step every day until Nov. 6."
Santorum isn't quitting despite three more losses.
"Who's ready to charge out of the locker room in Pennsylvania for a strong second half?" the former Pennsylvania senator asked supporters in Mars, Pa.
He's promising to press on even though he dramatically lags in the hunt for delegates. His campaign organization is a fraction of Romney's and he wasn't even on the ballot in Washington, D.C. He would have to win 76 percent of remaining delegates to reach the threshold to capture the nomination — an almost impossible task for his ragtag campaign.
But he isn't stopping.
"We're hitting the field. The clock starts tonight. We've got three weeks to go out here in Pennsylvania and win this state and after winning this state, the field looks a little different in May," he said.
Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are not just non-factors in the GOP race, they're footnotes.
Gingrich, the former House speaker, issued a short statement as the returns came in, insisting he was "committed to carrying the banner of bold conservative colors all the way to Tampa."
Meanwhile, Paul was rallying supporters at California State University, Chico, one stop on a three-day campaign swing in California.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.