WASHINGTON – After a three-month struggle, Mitt Romney edged into the mop-up phase of the race for the Republican presidential nomination on 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. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a tea party favorite who had been neutral in the race, endorsed Romney on Wednesday night, saying it was clear that he would be the nominee and that the primary fight should end.
Santorum is campaigning across Wisconsin as an ally of Walker.
“I’m excited to stand here with Gov. Walker. Not only should he not be recalled, he should be re-elected,” Santorum said in La Crosse, Wis.
There was no letup in Santorum’s criticism of Romney, whom he said is “completely out of sync with America” and “uniquely disqualified” to lead the party against President Barack Obama.
For the first time, Santorum on Monday seemed to acknowledge publicly that his quest for the presidential nomination may end in failure.
Asked in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network whether he would consider running as Romney’s vice presidential ticket mate, he said: “Of course. I’ll do whatever is necessary to help our country.”
Gingrich took an even more obvious step toward the campaign exit, although he struck a defiant note one day after announcing 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.