WASHINGTON — After a three-month struggle, Mitt Romney edged into the mop-up phase of the race for the Republican presidential nomination Wednesday, buoyed by Newt Gingrich's decision to scale back his campaign to the vanishing point and Rick Santorum's statement that he would take the No. 2 spot on the party ticket in the fall.
Romney campaigned by phone for support in next week's Wisconsin primary while he shuttled from California to Texas on a fundraising trip, praising Gov. Scott Walker for "trying to rein in the excesses that have permeated the public services union." The governor faces a recall election in June after winning passage of state legislation vehemently opposed by organized labor.
Romney aides eagerly spread the word that former President George H.W. Bush would bestow a formal endorsement today, although they declined to say whether former President George W. Bush has been asked for a public show of support.
Seven months before Election Day, there was ample evidence of a preparation gap with the Democrats.
A spokesman at the Republican National Committee said the party had recently opened campaign offices in three states expected to be battlegrounds this fall and would soon do the same in seven more.
By contrast, Obama's re-election campaign has 18 offices in Florida, nine in Michigan, a dozen in Ohio, 13 in Pennsylvania and seven in Nevada, according to officials.
And while Romney is still raising money for the second half of the primary campaign, Obama recently reported $84 million in the bank for the general election. Gingrich took an even more obvious step toward the campaign exit, although he struck a defiant note one day after announcing that he would support Romney if the front-runner can win a majority of delegates by the time the primary season ends in June.
"For some reason everybody in the establishment is chanting that Santorum and I should quit. Romney has to earn this. It's not going to be given to him," he said. At the same time, his aides were explaining that he had pushed out his campaign manager, trimmed his staff by one-third and would cut back on personal campaign time in primary and caucus states in favor of contacting unpledged delegates.
The Associated Press tally showed Romney with 568 delegates and on a pace to reach the required 1,144 in the remaining primary and caucus states. Santorum has 273; and Gingrich, 135.