Romney Aides Claim His Nomination Is Inevitable

Now that Super Tuesday is over, Mitt Romney's campaign is bracing for some tough states ahead. Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi are places where Romney may not do well. Until now, his aides focused mostly on Romney's electability against President Obama. Now they're making the case that nobody else can even get through the nominating process.

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And let's do the numbers. With some very conservative states ahead for the Republican candidates - Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi - states where frontrunner Mitt Romney may not do well, his campaign is arguing that in the long run he is the only candidate where the numbers add up to the nomination. Previously, his aides focused mostly on Romney's electability against President Obama. Now they're making the case that the math proves no other Republican can get through the nominating process. Here's NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: At a briefing with reporters, senior aides laid out the reasons they believe Romney's nomination is now inevitable. Here's their calculation. Mitt Romney has won around half the delegates so far. To reach the magic number of 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination, Romney does not need to do quite as well as he has until now.

In contrast, Rick Santorum has won about a fifth of the delegates so far. Same with Newt Gingrich. So Romney campaign spokeswoman Gail Gitcho says for either Santorum or Gingrich to get the nomination...

GAIL GITCHO: They're going to have to get 60 and 70 percent of the remaining delegates when the pattern, so far, in this delegate race has shown that they're not able to attain those kinds of numbers. So it would be very challenging for them to make that up in the coming weeks.

SHAPIRO: There are big states ahead with lots of delegates. Places like California and Texas. The problem for Gingrich and Santorum is those are not winner-take-all states. In fact, there are only four winner-take-all contests left in the race - New Jersey, Delaware, Utah, and Washington, D.C. Romney seems likely to win all of them. John Morgan is a Republican demographer who is not affiliated with any of the candidates.

JOHN MORGAN: It may be inevitable, but it's still going to take a little bit of time. I've heard it described as a mopping up phase. And I think that's right, as far as getting the delegates into Romney's column.

SHAPIRO: One reason the Romney campaign is focusing on the long term delegate race? Short term, next week could bring some tough headlines. Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi vote next. Those states are full of the kinds of socially conservative voters that Romney has a hard time winning over.

Yet even a second place finish in those states would add to Romney's delegate pile. So the superPAC supporting Romney has already spent more than a million dollars across those states on TV ads like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Romney rescued the Olympics.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Santorum was in Washington, voting to raise the debt limit five times.

SHAPIRO: This huge ad buy ties into a harmful narrative that Romney buys his victories. He only won his birth state of Michigan after he flooded the race with money. In Ohio, Romney and his superPAC outspent Santorum by nearly 10-to-1 in the last week, only to barely squeak by on Super Tuesday. On CNBC yesterday, Romney said his financial strength is a sign of how unprepared his rivals are to compete in the general election.

MITT ROMNEY: I mean, this is the nature of a campaign that you have to have to take on the Obama machine.

SHAPIRO: By talking about math and delegates, Romney can also shift attention away from his voter problems that have cropped up in state after state.

ANDY KOHUT: He cannot seem to get the conservative elements of the Republican base. He lost among people who are very conservative in Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee.

SHAPIRO: Andy Kohut of the Pew Research Center says Romney also has a tough time with lower income voters, less educated voters, and Evangelical voters.

KOHUT: In this election the lines, with respect to ideology, with respect to social class, with respect to religion, are drawn more sharply than in any other that I can remember. That's been the case in state after state. The patterns are so similar, they vary by degree, but they don't vary very much in kind.

SHAPIRO: One not-so-subtle message of Romney's inevitability pitch is that it's time for the other guys to drop out. The longer the race drags on, the more time Romney has to spend attacking his fellow Republicans instead of President Obama. And Romney is under attack too. Polls show that his favorability numbers have dropped as the race has become ugly. Yet Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul show no sign of going anywhere.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Boston.

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