WASHINGTON — Now is the time for Mitt Romney to mend his Republican fences and bring around those dubious voters who kept spurning him for Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and others to the right. After a nasty primary battle, his challenge is to somehow excite the party's staunchest conservatives without alienating the independent voters he'll need to defeat President Barack Obama in the fall.
Romney predicted Wednesday that Republicans will naturally rally together against their common foe, Obama, and focus on their shared distress about the nation's economy — an issue that resonates across the political spectrum.
To smooth the way, party leaders are moving quickly to close ranks, piling on more Romney endorsements after Santorum quit the field Tuesday. It's unclear whether that will be enough to dispense with some voters' worries, stoked by Romney's primary season rivals, that he's an "Etch A Sketch" conservative eager to shift to the center and abandon the conservative base.
While most primary voters surveyed in exit polls said they would ultimately be satisfied with Romney as the nominee, a significant chunk balked. Such surveys conducted in nine states during the primary season found 44 percent of GOP voters said Romney just wasn't conservative enough.
Santorum said he would "go out there and fight to make sure that we defeat President Barack Obama" — which presumably means getting behind the GOP standard-bearer at some point. Gingrich insists he will stay in the race as a conservative voice, but he also says he will support the eventual nominee. Typically some behind-the-scenes negotiations lead up to such endorsements.