By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney is set to clinch the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday night with a win in the Texas primary, a triumph of endurance for a candidate who came up short four years ago and had to fight hard this year as voters flirted with a carousel of GOP rivals.
According to the Associated Press count, Romney was sure to pass the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination on Tuesday unless he flopped badly in the Texas contest, an unlikely scenario with no one else campaigning.
The former Massachusetts governor has reached the nomination milestone with a steady message of concern about the U.S. economy, a campaign organization that dwarfed those of his GOP foes and a fundraising operation second only to that of his Democratic opponent in the general election, President Barack Obama.
"That goal is accomplished, but there's a much bigger goal to be accomplished and that's winning the presidency," said Rich Beeson, Romney's political director. "So while you can take a certain amount of satisfaction and pride for (Romney) and what he's accomplished, he's very resolved to say, 'Our work isn't done.'"
Romney must now fire up conservatives who still doubt him while persuading swing voters that he can do a better job fixing the nation's struggling economy than Obama. In Obama, he will face a well-funded candidate with a proven campaign team in an election that will be heavily influenced by the economy.
"It's these economic indicators that will more or less trump any good or bad that Romney potentially got out of primary season," said Josh Putnam, an assistant political science professor at Davidson College who writes the political blog Frontloading HQ.
Romney opened his day in Colorado's coal country, where he spoke directly to small town America: "I'm not going to forget Craig, Colorado. I'm not going to forget communities like this across the country that are hurting right now under this president," he said. Local officials report that the area's economy is improving, but Romney said the recovery is too slow.
The Colorado event was the first stop in a Tuesday swing that ends at a Las Vegas fundraiser with Donald Trump, who has been renewing discredited suggestions that Obama wasn't born in the United States. The Obama campaign released a video Tuesday criticizing Romney's unwillingness to stand up to Trump and the more extreme elements in his party. Romney says he believes Obama was born in America but has yet to condemn Trump's repeated insinuations to the contrary.
"Mitt Romney's continued embrace of Donald Trump and refusal to condemn his disgraceful conspiracy theories demonstrates his complete lack of moral leadership," Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said in a statement. "If Mitt Romney lacks the backbone to stand up to a charlatan like Donald Trump because he's so concerned about lining his campaign's pockets, what does that say about the kind of president he would be?"
Asked Monday about Trump's contentions, Romney said, "I don't agree with all the people who support me. And my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in." He added, "But I need to get 50.1 percent or more. And I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people."
Republicans won't officially nominate Romney until late August at the GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla. He enters the Texas primary with 1,086 convention delegates — 58 shy of the 1,144 needed to win the nomination.
Texas has 152 delegates at stake and they are awarded in proportion to the statewide vote. That means Romney has to get at least 38 percent of the vote there to go over the top. In recent primaries in Kentucky, Arkansas, Nebraska and Oregon, he has done no worse than 67 percent.
Texas Republicans also will vote in a Senate primary to choose a candidate to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is facing state Solicitor General Ted Cruz and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will go to a runoff in July. The nominee will be strongly favored to win in November in heavily Republican Texas.