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It's a big week for conventions. Detroit has its big auto show this week. Las Vegas hosts the Consumer Electronics Extravaganza. And in New Orleans, it's the annual winter meeting of the Republican National Committee. That meeting of top GOP officials got underway yesterday, just hours after Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary. NPR's David Welna has this report from New Orleans on what the party faithful are saying.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: At a welcome reception last night in a hotel next to the Superdome, state Republican chairs and national committee members gathered from across the country.
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WELNA: As the Dixieland jazz band livened the party, party officials let the good times roll. At least some had reason to celebrate: The man they consider most capable of taking away President Obama's job has now won the first two contests in the presidential sweepstakes, and he's leading the polls for the next one nine days from now in South Carolina.
BOB BENNETT: The primary is, I think, Mr. Romney's to lose right now.
PRISCILLA RAKESTRAW: I think the momentum has started. The Romney-mentum has started.
MIKE STUART: Mitt Romney looks very, very strong right now. I guess my presumption would be he'll be our nominee.
WELNA: Those were Republican National Committee members Bob Bennett of Ohio and Priscilla Rakestraw of Delaware, along with West Virginia State GOP Chairman Mike Stuart. Their optimism about Mitt Romney's prospects is shared by Saul Anuzis, a national committeeman from Michigan who's endorsed Romney. For Anuzis, Romney is on track for his party's nomination.
SAUL ANUZIS: I think South Carolina is going to be critical. It's probably the most conservative state that will vote out of the early primary states. So if Romney wins South Carolina, I think he probably wins Florida. And then he goes into Michigan, Arizona, where he's very strong, which would put him in almost an inevitable position of being the presumptive nominee going into Super Tuesday.
WELNA: But for other Republicans at this winter meeting, Romney's nomination does not appear inevitable.
JOAN REYNOLDS: There could be a lot of people that rally around one other person, other than Romney.
WELNA: That's Joan Reynolds, married to a national committeeman from Alabama. Unlike most party officials, Reynolds was willing to be openly critical of the GOP front-runner.
REYNOLDS: I have real concerns about Romney. I really do. And I think we need somebody much more conservative. As I've heard so many people say, when you put a moderate against a Democrat, you're not going to win.
WELNA: If there was some angst among some here about Romney, there was also considerable anger about ads Newt Gingrich is running in South Carolina that portray Romney as pro-abortion. Again, Romney supporter Saul Anuzis.
ANUZIS: Newt's a bigger guy than that. He should be. I think that he's the kind of guy that can run a race on who Newt Gingrich is and what he stands for, and I think any of this kind of scorched-earth policy against any of our candidates is bad.
WELNA: Other Republicans accused Gingrich of effectively making ads for President Obama's re-election. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said he respects Ronald Reagan's so-called 11th commandment of not speaking ill of another Republican. Still, Priebus refused to condemn the negative ads now flooding South Carolina's airwaves.
REINCE PRIEBUS: The idea that this is some sort of cakewalk, and that's the way it should proceed, is something I just reject. I think that this is how primaries are run, and, I think ultimately, our candidate will be stronger.
WELNA: And if that candidate turns out to be Romney, he's already picking up new support from some who were earlier skeptics. Delaware's Priscilla Rakestraw just endorsed Romney after considering some alternatives.
RAKESTRAW: I took a while to look over them very carefully, flirted with Governor Perry for a while, flirted with Newt, and then I think like most Republicans, we'll come down on the side of the man who can best beat President Obama.
WELNA: Rakestraw says the key for Romney at this point is to get people to fall in love with him - or, as she put it, at least in like with him.
David Welna, NPR News, New Orleans.
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