WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney clinched the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday 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.
Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump – all of them sat atop the Republican field at some point. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann peaked for a short time, too. But Romney outlasted them all, even as some GOP voters and tea party backers questioned his conservative credentials.
According to the Associated Press count, Romney surpassed the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination Tuesday by winning at least 88 delegates in the Texas primary. He has 1,174 delegates.
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 Obama.
Our party has come together with the goal of putting the failures of the last three-and-a-half years behind us, Romney said in a statement. I have no illusions about the difficulties of the task before us. But whatever challenges lie ahead, we will settle for nothing less than getting America back on the path to full employment and prosperity.
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 faces 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.
Republicans won’t officially nominate Romney until late August at the GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla.
Romney, 65, is clinching the presidential nomination later in the calendar than any recent Republican candidate – but not quite as late as Obama in 2008. Obama clinched the Democratic nomination on June 3, 2008, at the end of an epic primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton. Four years ago, John McCain reached the threshold on March 4, after Romney had dropped out of the race about a month earlier.
This year’s primary fight was extended by a back-loaded primary calendar, new GOP rules that generally awarded fewer delegates for winning a state and a Republican electorate that built up several other candidates before settling on Romney.
Romney has been in general-election mode for weeks, largely ignoring the primaries since his competitors dropped out or stopped campaigning.