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Romney Leads Republican Race as Long Battle Looms

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks at the Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson, Mississippi, March 9, 2012.

The battle for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination heads next week to primary contests in America's deep South. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney continues to lead the field in the wake of the recent Super Tuesday primaries, but his key rivals remain in the race, and Romney has a long battle ahead before he can lay claim to the Republican nomination.

With victories in six of the 10 states on Super Tuesday [March 6], Romney is urging supporters to stay the course.

“And so we will go, day by day, step by step, door by door, heart to heart,” said Romney.

Southern primaries

But the Republican race now heads to Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday, March 13. And that offers new opportunities for Romney’s rivals, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich.

“We are staying in this race because I believe that it is going to be impossible for a moderate to win the general election,” said Gingrich.

Romney continues to struggle to win over conservatives and likely will face setbacks in the upcoming southern primaries, said analyst Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute.

“That means he is going to continue to slog through, picking up a delegate here, 20 delegates there, until he gets to some winner-take-all states that show up in June. But he is not going to put this away anytime soon,” said Olsen.

Romney’s opponents hope to slow him down enough to force a contested Republican convention in August, said ABC political strategist Matthew Dowd.

“By throwing a bunch of roadblocks in front, winning a bunch of states, keeping him from that number, and they hope to show how weak he is going into the convention, and basically turning to the convention and saying, 'you cannot nominate this guy,'” said Dowd.

Former first lady weighs in

The contentious and lengthy primary campaign worries former first lady Barbara Bush and other establishment Republicans.

“It’s been, I think, the worst campaign that I have ever seen in my life. I just hate it. I hate the fact that people think compromise is a dirty word,” she said.

Some Republicans do worry that the negative primary campaign has hurt Romney’s chances against President Barack Obama in November, said Olsen.

“And he is demonstrating flaws as a candidate, a lack of adeptness, a coldness and a tone-deafness that is hurting him a little bit now, but people projecting forward are very worried that it is going to hurt him against an extremely well-financed and agile opponent,” said Olsen.

Romney leads the delegate count with more than 400 at the moment, about a third of 1,144 needed to secure the Republican nomination.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.