The next round of Republican presidential primaries will be held on April 24 in five states, including Pennsylvania and New York. But the man leading the race for the party nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, is already shifting his focus to an expected matchup against President Barack Obama in the November general election.
The schedule of Republican presidential primaries runs through June, but Mitt Romney already has more than half of the 1,144 delegates he needs to secure the party nomination over rivals Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul.
Romney increasingly focused his campaign on President Obama. “We have just got to get him out of office! He just does not understand what is happening in the country,” Romney said.
Mr. Obama is also getting ready for the general election, defending his administration’s economic record and warning voters about a return of the White House to Republican control. “The policies we put in place over the past three years have started to take hold and what we can not do now is go back to the policies that got us into so many of the problems that we have been dealing with in the first place,” he said.
But before Romney can devote all his attention to a matchup with the president in November, he must first dispatch his remaining Republican rivals and nail down the party nomination.
His main rival, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, expects a win in his home state primary in two weeks will keep him in the Republican race. “The people of this country have stood up and followed because they have seen someone who has a clear, positive vision, someone whose convictions are also forged in steel,” Santorum said.
Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich also remains in the race, but has drastically cut back on his campaign organization and appears close to acknowledging the primary race is over.
He spoke to Fox News Sunday. “I think you have to be realistic. Given the size of his organization and given the number of primaries he has won, he is far and away the most likely Republican nominee,” he said.
MSNBC analyst Richard Wolffe said Romney faces a challenge in trying to win over moderate voters in the general election after trying to please conservative Republicans in the primaries.
“He has not really proved the doubters wrong about whether he is truly conservative or not," said Wolffe. "That dynamic will limit his capacity to move to the center because that is where his own base has always suspected he is. So if he has to continue to prove that he is a true conservative he is going to be limited in how good a general election candidate he can be.”
The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll gives the president a lead over Romney of 51 to 44 percent. Other recent surveys show Mr. Obama leading in several so-called battleground states, larger states that usually tip the balance one way or the other in presidential elections.
Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown said Romney will have to cut into the lead Mr. Obama enjoys among women voters and Hispanic-Americans, two key voter groups that often lean Democratic. “The president has large majorities among women voters and is basically breaking even among men," Brown said. "That is the recipe for a Democratic success if that pattern holds.”
But the Post-ABC poll also found lingering concerns about the president’s handling of the domestic economy, and the economy and jobs remain top priorities for voters heading into the November election.