Romney Sweeps Three Primaries to Keep Lead Over Santorum

April 4 (Bloomberg) -- Bloomberg's Peter Cook reports that Mitt Romney swept to victory in a trio of primaries, wins that accelerate his path to the Republican presidential nomination. Romney’s victories enable the former Massachusetts governor to focus almost entirely on running against Obama. He speaks on Bloomberg Television's "InBusiness With Margaret Brennan." (Source: Bloomberg)

Mitt Romney charged President President Barack Obama with harming the U.S. economy and trying to hide his record from voters as he sought to pivot off a trio of primary wins that solidified his grip on the Republican presidential nomination.

While Romney stopped short of calling for Rick Santorum or his other rivals to leave the Republican race following his victories yesterday in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C., Romney said he hoped the nominating race would be resolved “as soon as possible” so he could focus entirely on battling Obama.

“With all the challenges the nation faces, this is not the time for President Obama’s hide-and-seek campaign,” Romney, 65, told newspaper editors at a convention in a hotel ballroom in Washington. “Unlike President Obama, you don’t have to wait until after the election to find out what I believe, or what my plans are.”

Questioned after his roughly 20-minute speech about whether he had asked his Republican opponents to leave the race, Romney said, “No, I haven’t, but now that you bring it up -- ”

He added: “I hope that we’re able to resolve our nomination process as soon as possible, of course, because I’d like to focus time and attention on those key battleground states, and raising the funds to be somewhat competitive with the president.”

Rivals Not Mentioned

With Santorum vowing to remain in the race, Romney’s speech -- which omitted any mention of his Republican challengers -- offered more evidence that the former Massachusetts governor considers the primary battle effectively over and the nomination his. Romney’s latest victories bolstered that case, and Obama for the first time directly engaged him in a speech yesterday to the editors group.

Obama criticized Romney by name and mocked him for describing as “marvelous” the U.S. House-passed budget that would overhaul Medicare and cut domestic programs while lowering taxes for high earners.

“He said that he’s very supportive of this new budget and he even called it ‘marvelous,’ which is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing budgets,” Obama said. “It’s a word you don’t often hear generally.”

‘Rhetorical Excess’

Romney dismissed the president’s presentation as loaded with “distortions and inaccuracies,” saying Obama was engaging in “rhetorical excess” to try to obscure his own record.

Obama, he said today, “came here yesterday and railed against arguments no one is making, and criticized policies no one is proposing. It’s one of his favorite strategies: setting up straw men to distract from his record.”

At a celebratory rally in Milwaukee last night, Romney also directed his fire at Obama.

“President Obama thinks he is doing a good job,” Romney said. “Years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers telling you that you’re great and you are doing a great job, it’s enough to make you think that you might become a little out of touch.”

Romney dominated Wisconsin -- yesterday’s most competitive primary -- among almost every demographic group, according to exit polls. He made strides with the social conservatives and evangelical Christians that had previously backed Santorum, as well as with lower- and middle-income voters.

Romney Dominance

The former private-equity executive won a plurality of those who consider themselves “very conservative,” a group that represented about a third of the Wisconsin electorate in the Republican race. Among the strongest supporters of the anti- government Tea Party movement, Romney won 52 percent.

Santorum only narrowly won a plurality of evangelical Christians, his strongest base of support, beating Romney 41 percent to 38 percent.

Among those making $30,000 to $50,000 a year, Romney beat Santorum 40 percent to 31 percent.

As Romney turned his attention to the Democratic president, Santorum focused on contests three weeks from now and beyond. Speaking to supporters last night in his home state of Pennsylvania, which votes on April 24, Santorum assailed Romney as out of touch with the grassroots of the Republican Party.

‘Second Half’

“Who’s ready to charge out of the locker room in Pennsylvania for a strong second half?” Santorum, 53, asked backers in Mars, Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania and half the other people in this country have yet to be heard,” he said, vowing to keep campaigning “to make sure their voices are heard.”

Santorum said he will win Pennsylvania and southern states more favorable to him that hold May primaries. Those include North Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas and Kentucky. Also voting on April 24, though, are four states where Romney is favored: Delaware, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The former senator is facing headwinds from influential Republican leaders who have been rallying around Romney in recent weeks. On “CBS This Morning,” Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate and a Romney supporter, said today he hoped Santorum “would understand that it’s time for a graceful exit.”

Santorum spent the morning greeting voters in a Pittsburgh suburb and stressing the importance to him of Pennsylvania, which he represented in the House for four years and the Senate for 12.

“We have to win here,” he told reporters at Bob’s Diner in Carnegie, a part of his old congressional district.

“We’re going to work very, very hard. Then we’re going to get into May,” he said

Wisconsin Tally

In the Wisconsin primary, Romney had 44 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 37 percent with all precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press. U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas had 11 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 6 percent.

In Maryland, Romney won with 49 percent of the vote to 29 percent for Santorum. In the District of Columbia, where Santorum failed to get on the ballot, Romney won 70 percent, Paul 12 percent and Gingrich 11 percent.

After the latest round of voting, Romney has 655 of the 1,144 delegates needed to capture the nomination, according to an Associated Press tally. Santorum has 278 delegates and would need to win about three-quarters of those remaining.

To contact the reporters on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at jdavis159@bloomberg.net John McCormick in Milwaukee at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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