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Romney clinches GOP nomination, focuses ahead

By Paul West and Seema Mehta, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — In a footnote to the long and often caustic Republican primary contest, Mitt Romney surpassed the number of delegates needed to clinch the presidential nomination Tuesday night by winning the Texas primary.

The former Massachusetts governor played down the milestone. Eager to move beyond the primary phase of his candidacy and ease intraparty divisions, he is now focused on fundraising and sharpening attacks on President Barack Obama for what figures to be a close and expensive general-election battle.

In a one-paragraph statement issued after the polls closed in Texas, where he essentially ran unopposed, Romney said he was honored and humbled by his achievement.

“I have no illusions about the difficulties of the task before us,” he said. “But whatever challenges lie ahead, we will settle for nothing less than getting America back on the path to full employment and prosperity. On November 6, I am confident that we will unite as a country and begin the hard work of fulfilling the American promise and restoring our country to greatness.”

Romney has exceeded the number of delegates, 1,144, required to gain the nomination, according to an Associated Press count. Six primaries remain, including California’s, the nation’s largest, on June 5.

Romney’s final rival, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, is no longer actively campaigning, but he and his supporters continue to fight for delegate slots. Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College who closely tracks the nomination process, estimated that Paul will probably have 150 to 200 delegates bound to him at the nominating convention in Tampa, Fla., as well as control over at least four state delegations.

There has been speculation that Paul’s backers will attempt to place his name in nomination, but Putnam said the Texas congressman, who will retire when his term expires, is unlikely to be a disruptive force at the national party gathering.

“They’re happy with the incremental growth in their quote-unquote revolution from 2008 to 2012, and they’ll let Rand Paul pick it up in 2016 or 2020,” he said, referring to the congressman’s son, a senator from Kentucky.

In recent weeks, Romney has intensified his fundraising activities, which continued Tuesday evening in Las Vegas at events with developer Donald Trump that were expected to raise as much as $2 million. Separately, Romney met with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who along with family members gave $21.5 million to a “super PAC” supporting rival GOP contender Newt Gingrich and is expected to open his wallet for Romney.

Romney’s public schedule was designed to avoid highlighting his relationship with Trump, who continues to espouse disproved theories that Obama was not born in the United States.

That proved impossible from the moment Romney landed at Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport. As Romney’s chartered plane taxied down the runway, a private jet emblazoned with Trump’s surname sat near the terminal. Romney staffers tried to move photographers and reporters into a position where they could not see Trump’s shining-black aircraft as Romney alighted from his plane. They were not successful, and the first images of Romney arriving in Las Vegas showed Romney walking down the stairs with Trump’s plane over his shoulder.

Things went downhill from there. Shortly before Romney’s public rally with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Rep. Joe Heck, Trump went on CNN and continued to argue that a notice of Obama’s birth published in a Hawaii newspaper in 1961 was false and that the long-form birth certificate that Hawaii produced was also not legitimate.

“His mother was not in the hospital. There are many other things that came out. And, frankly, if you would report it accurately, I think you would probably get better ratings than you’re getting, which are pretty small,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

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