It seems like forever ago that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were waving Etch a Sketches at their rallies in a last-ditch bid to stop Romney’s march to the nomination. The long slog of primaries effectively ended on April 3 with Romney’s victory in Wisconsin. Three weeks after that, the former Massachusetts governor returned to New Hampshire, where he launched his campaign on a windswept farm one year ago this week, to claim the mantle of nominee.
But it should become official on Tuesday, when Texas voters are expected to push Romney over the finish line in the delegate race. And with that, the Republican Party will have selected an unlikely standard-bearer for 2012: a New Englander in a party rooted in the South; a man of moderate temperament in a party fueled by hot rhetoric; a Mormon in a party guided by evangelical Christians; a flip-flopper in a party that demands ideological purity.
So it was that nobody anointed Romney. There was the humbling tumult of South Carolina, where a resurgent Gingrich threw him off balance; where he stammered on the debate stage trying to explain his taxes; where one rally crowd was so meager, about 80 people in a cavernous convention hall, that he reached for excuses — “Gosh, this is a workday, right?”
On the day South Carolinians voted, Romney, in his mind already defeated, found order in a simple chore: He fed quarters into a washer and dryer in the Columbia Marriott’s guest laundry room.
He came back 10 days later in Florida, going on the warpath to eviscerate Gingrich, only to step on his own momentum the morning after his victory by saying, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”
A formidable adversary
After a year of criticism that he didn’t have the strength or shrewdness to take on President Obama, Romney has emerged from the bruising primary as a formidable adversary. With the race firmly in general-election mode, he is a more disciplined campaigner than he was a few months ago and has pulled even with Obama in many national and swing-state polls.
However reluctantly they may have settled on Romney, most Republicans are now rallying behind him. On Monday, about 5,000 people — one of the largest crowds of his campaign — turned out to see him pay tribute to veterans in San Diego.
Romney started sensing that enthusiasm on a cold morning three days after Christmas. He awoke in Muscatine, Iowa, and headed to a coffee shop for a quick campaign stop. It was before dawn, but his supporters had filled the cafe, snaked down a hallway and lined up in the street. Romney’s top strategist, Stuart Stevens, said he overheard a woman telling her child, “We’re here to see the next president.”