Following expected primary victories over Rick Santorum in Maryland and D.C. Tuesday night, Mitt Romney won the biggest prize of the evening in Wisconsin, earning a significant number of delegates and bolstering his frontrunner status.
Romney's victory speech before a rally in Milwaukee, Wisc., had the tone of a general election address: he focused on attacking President Barack Obama on high gas prices, Obamacare, and the economy.
"President Obama thinks he's doing a good job," Romney told the audience. "He actually thinks he's doing an historically great job, like Abraham Lincoln and LBJ and FDR. And no, he did not say that on Saturday Night Live."
Romney said Obama's lack of leadership has made the economic crisis worse and positioned himself as a symbol of hope amid the turmoil.
"The dreamers can dream a little bigger, the help wanted signs can be dusted off, and we can start again," Romney said.
He made no direct mention of his closest opponent in the race for the nomination, Rick Santorum.
Heading into Tuesday's primary, Romney had 572 delegates--half of the 1,144 necessary to secure the nomination. Santorum had 273 delegates, Newt Gingrich had 135, and Ron Paul had 50, according to the Associated Press.
Together, Maryland and the District have 53 delegates up for grabs (Santorum did not appear on D.C.'s ballot). But Wisconsin--which will award 42 delegates--was the night's major wild card.
The Badger state's significance goes beyond the delegate race: Wisconsin is a swing state that will factor heavily in the 2012 general election. If Santorum had been able to best current delegate frontrunner Romney there, it would have significantly boosted Santorum's campaign.
Prior to Tuesday, Santorum had pledged to remain in the race regardless of the outcome in Wisconsin. (He spent Tuesday evening in Pennsylvania--his home state, which will hold its primary April 24.)
Speaking from a primary results watching rally in Mars, Penn., Santorum reiterated his commitment to the campaign. "We have now reached the point where it's half time," Santorum said, noting that half the total delegates at stake have been awarded. "And who's ready to charge out of the locker room in Pennsylvania for the second half?!" he asked as the audience cheered.
Santorum presented himself as the unwavering conservative in the race, again taking jabs at Romney for shifting stances. We need "someone whose views are forged in steel, not on an Etch A Sketch," Santorum said.
He also said that Texas' May 29 primary, where 155 delegates are at stake, is a part of his delegate strategy.
Santorum remains significantly behind Romney in delegates, and is not favored in the remaining April contests, save perhaps in his home state of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the party establishment has been ramping up pressure on Santorum to bow out.
In recent weeks, former President George H. W. Bush, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union all endorsed Romney. Many expressed a desire for the party to unite behind a candidate.
Leading up to Tuesday, Romney secured high-profile endorsements in Wisconsin from House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson.
The Romney campaign on Tuesday confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that it has formed a joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee for the general election. The move suggests Republicans are rallying around Romney even though the party extended the invitation to form a joint committee to all the GOP candidates running. Romney is the only candidate reported to have accepted.
The joint committee bumps the donation limit from $5,000 per donor for the primary and general combined to $75,000 via various related committees.