Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is looking for a sweep in three Republican primaries on Tuesday, expecting to tighten his grasp in the contest to decide who will challenge President Barak Obama in the November general election.
Regardless of the outcome in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C., the former governor of Massachusetts is rapidly shifting his focus to the general election and the challenges of Mr. Obama’s better-financed and better-organised opposition.
Mr. Romney has been ignoring his main Republican rival and taking his campaign to the Democratic president, whom he accused Monday of “crushing dreams” with a “government-centred society.” Challenger Rick Santorum has faded in the race.
“He takes his political inspiration from the capitals of Europe,” Mr. Romney told supporters here Monday. “His version of a perfect world is a big-spending big government.”
The grinding Republican campaign race has complicated Mr. Romney’s ability to re-focus his broader organization toward Mr. Obama. Aides concede that staff building and fundraising for the fall general election are lagging.
Mr. Romney’s recent string of high-dollar California fundraisers was limited to raising money only for the Republican primary contests. Aides are only beginning to take steps to raise cash to use against Mr. Obama, who has been aggressively fundraising and distributed staff on the ground in almost every state in the nation.
The delay has given Mr. Obama a massive head start and the disparity is staggering.
At the end of February, Mr. Obama reported $84.7 million in his campaign account compared to Mr. Romney’s $7.3 million. Mr. Obama has more than 530 paid staff compared to roughly 100 for Mr. Romney.
The president tapped into that campaign stockpile on Monday, releasing a television ad set to run in six swing states accusing Mr. Romney of standing with “Big Oil.” The ad came hours after the release of a similar campaign from an Obama ally.
Mr. Santorum must prove his strength in the U.S. heartland by winning Wisconsin, where he’s said he can challenge Mr. Obama but where Mr. Romney has beaten him consistently. Also campaigning in Wisconsin on Monday, Mr. Santorum said that Mr. Romney has essentially bought his success by outspending the competition.
Mr. Romney and his allies have spent a combined $53 million on television advertising so far this election cycle compared to just $27 million from his three Republican competitors combined, according to data compiled by the media tracking firm SMG Delta.
Mr. Santorum’s team, having narrowly lost a string of high-profile contests, spent just $9 million.
In the primary race, Mr. Romney has a huge advantage in delegates. On Monday, The Associated Press count had Mr. Romney with exactly half the delegates needed to win the nomination, 572, and twice as many delegates as Mr. Santorum.
For the fall campaign, Mr. Romney’s presidential hopes may rest on the ability of the Republican National Committee to give him a running start. The RNC, beset by problems of its own in recent years, says it’s ready to meet the challenge. Yet party officials acknowledge limitations as general election fundraising has suffered without a nominee.
In Chicago, Mr. Obama’s team has 300 paid staffers already at work inside the president’s re-election headquarters. They’re anticipating a general election against Mr. Romney.
Mr. Obama received a boost Monday from former President Bill Clinton, who said he believes Mr. Obama can win re-election if he’s able to convince voters he steadied a shaky economy.
Mr. Clinton also told ABC he thinks Mr. Romney will have a difficult time reconciling positions he’s taken during the primary season with what he’ll say against Mr. Obama in the fall.