Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney tightened his grip on the Republican presidential nomination with a triple primary win and trained his sights on US President Barack Obama as his Republican rivals vowed to fight on.
Romney thumped main rival Rick Santorum in Maryland and the US capital Washington on Tuesday, and won a tighter, but more important race, in Wisconsin, US media projected, in a pivotal night for the party’s frontrunner.
“We won them all. This really has been quite a night,” Romney told supporters in Wisconsin, where he won by nearly 5 percentage points. “We’ve won a great victory tonight in our campaign to restore the promise of America.”
However, Romney’s opponents remained undaunted, with Santorum saying the Republican race to see who would challenge Obama in November was merely at “halftime.”
Santorum, a Christian conservative and staunch opponent of abortion and gay marriage, has said he will carry on at least into May, when primaries are held in more conservative states seen as friendlier to his candidacy.
“The clock starts tonight,” Santorum told supporters in his home state of Pennsylvania, which votes later this month. “We’ve got three weeks to go out here in Pennsylvania and win this state. And after winning this state, the field looks a little different in May.”
However, Santorum must feel the sting of a loss in Wisconsin, where he campaigned heavily over the last week. With nearly 100 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had 43 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 38 percent.
Santorum virtually ignored the other two contests in the hope of snagging a victory in the Midwest, where the archconservative opponent of abortion and gay marriage has fared far better than in the more moderate Northeast.
Romney won 49 percent to Santorum’s 29 percent in Maryland and dominated with 70 percent in Washington, with former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas congressman Ron Paul trailing far behind in all three contests.
The trifecta put Romney more than halfway to the magic number of 1,144 delegates needed to be crowned the Republican flag-bearer at the party’s national convention in Tampa, Florida, in August.