Wisconsin Primary In Focus

Audie Cornish talks to NPR's Ron Elving, Ari Shapiro and David Welna about the Republican primary in Wisconsin.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has won the Republican presidential primaries in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Polls have closed in Wisconsin at this hour where a third primary is - was underway today. We're awaiting results. Romney has spent the past several days campaigning in Wisconsin like his rival Rick Santorum.

NPR's Ari Shapiro has been traveling with the Romney campaign, and he's in Milwaukee at Romney's primary night event at the Grain Exchange. Hey there, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Audie. How are you?

CORNISH: So how has Governor Romney spent the day in Wisconsin?

SHAPIRO: Doing exactly what he has been trying to do for the last few months, which is focusing not on his Republican rivals but instead on President Obama. He had an event at a sub shop today where he handed out sandwiches to supporters.

He made brief comments that were focused entirely on President Obama. He said: This is a guy who takes credit for everything that goes right in the country, refuses to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong in the country. He cited high gas prices as one example, and he said: If I'm president, I will turn the country on to the right path and also take responsibility for when things go wrong. It's a fine of a shift that the campaign is trying to make, pivoting away from this trench warfare with other Republicans in the primary and back to the general election.

CORNISH: Now that Romney has won at least two primaries for the night, what's ahead for the governor?

SHAPIRO: Well, tomorrow, he heads to Washington, D.C., where he's going to give a speech to this same group of news editors that President Obama spoke to today. President Obama, notably, attacked Mitt Romney by name - first time he's done that at a speech - and Romney is expected to do the same, really shutting the other Republicans out, as I say, which he's able to do, given the large number of delegates that are at stake tonight that he looks on a path to win is going to really create even a bigger gap than there has been between him and Rick Santorum, the next closest front-runner, which sort of frees him up to focus on President Obama in a way that, as I say, he's been trying to from the beginning.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro with the Romney campaign. Thanks so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you, Audie.

CORNISH: Moving on to Rick Santorum. He's already moved on to Pennsylvania, his home state, which holds its primary later this month. NPR's David Welna joins us from Mars, Pennsylvania, where Santorum is holding an event tonight. Hi there, David.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So how do Santorum's prospects look at this point in his home state?

WELNA: Well, right now, things are looking not so bad. A poll came out today, the Quinnipiac poll, that has Santorum six percentage points ahead of Mitt Romney. However, that was also the case in Wisconsin, if you went back a few weeks. Santorum was leading there. And there is a considerable consternation, I think, in Santorum's camp that Romney is going to do what he did in Wisconsin, which was - he's really pour on the money and flood the airwaves with campaign ads that go after Romney, even though Romney is in Southeast and mentioning Santorum in his campaign appearances - his ads and his surrogates certainly are - and they're really turning up the pressure for Santorum to bow out.

But you've got a big crowd here tonight. Almost all of them are fervent supporters of Santorum. And (unintelligible) going to the places in Pennsylvania that have a big conservative population and, I think, that he wants to get momentum going. It's three weeks from tonight when we'll be getting the results.

CORNISH: And in the time we have left, David, do you talked about the pressure? There's also pressure from the GOP establishment sort of building for Santorum to drop out as well. And is there any sign he might move in that direction?

WELNA: There is, yes. In fact, Santorum is showing no signs of backing down now. I think he certainly wants to make a stand in Pennsylvania. However, I've talked to some of his supporters tonight who say, if he does not win in Pennsylvania, then it really would be time to regroup and rethink - think about closing ranks with Romney. But at this point, he looks like he's going to fight on.

CORNISH: That's NPR's David Welna, talking to us from Pennsylvania. Thanks so much, David.

WELNA: You're welcome, Audie.

CORNISH: And we're going to turn now to NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, to do a little bit of math and a little bit of recap about what we're hearing tonight. Ron, after three long months of nominating events and me getting all excited every other Tuesday, if it feels like, what should we expect to see from the Romney camp?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: You know, the dominant approach tonight, the dominant tone, may be celebratory, yes, but closer to relief for a lot of the Romney people. The caucus and primary process, as you say, has been going on for three months, but it's really been nearly a year since the Republican candidates had their first debate. And you could also say that Mitt Romney never stopped running after the 2008 primary contests when he lost to John McCain. He just kept his focus on this prize, and he kept on going.

So tonight, he looks close to wrapping it up and finally being able to turn around and look at President Obama and say: I'm the one who's going to be running against you in November.

CORNISH: So wrapping it up. What does that mean in terms of the delegate count? What does this do to his lead overall?

ELVING: Tonight, he should pick up 16 delegates in the District of Columbia, which really no contest because Rick Santorum is not on the ballot. He should get all of those. He should also pick up the lion's share of the 37 that are available in Maryland, and that's also a big, long step forward. And then in Wisconsin, they've got 18 that are at large. So if he wins the state overall, he'll pick up 18 delegates for winning statewide.

Then there are three for each of the eight congressional districts. He'll probably win at least half of the congressional districts. If he wins the state, he'll probably win five, conceivably even six, so he's going to get a big chunk of that 42 delegates as well. Overall for the night, maybe 80 delegates with Santorum getting fewer than 20. That really puts his lead beyond reach. He was already ahead of Rick Santorum by a two to one among delegates.

CORNISH: That's what I was going to ask. We've heard Santorum say he's not going to get out until Romney has made the number. I mean, where are we overall at this race, then?

ELVING: Because it's already a two-to-one lead, and it's getting even more of a lead for Romney and getting even more insuperable, from this point forward, Rick Santorum would need to win something like 75, maybe 80 percent of all the remaining delegates. And no one can do that. Now, Santorum could come back with an upset win in Wisconsin tonight, conceivably. But even so, it would probably be close to an even split in the delegates.

If he loses Wisconsin, he might be able to come back in three weeks, as David Welna was just saying, and win his home state of Pennsylvania. But even there, because of the way the delegates are selected, he would probably only get about half. Meanwhile, he would be getting buried, the same day, April 24th, in the state of New York and several other events that are happening there. He could pick up some in May, but there just aren't enough delegates in Arkansas and Kentucky to put him back in the game.

CORNISH: So at this point, I mean, is Governor Romney going to be alone in the active field in the days ahead?

ELVING: He could be. Santorum says he's going to fight on, and he says he will wait until Romney has every one of the 11,044 that he needs. And he certainly has shown an awful lot of fight and fire in these recent weeks. But on another level, there is little to be gained from that. If he can't win the nomination outright, and if he can't force his way under the ticket by being close behind Mitt Romney, he might see his future better served in beginning the negotiations with the Romney camp and with national Republican leaders that would lead to a unified convention and more of a future for Rick Santorum.

CORNISH: All right. NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for talking with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: And to recap, Governor Romney has won the Maryland primary and maybe on the way to winning the District of Columbia. Going next to - we still have the Wisconsin primary results coming up next.

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