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, eager to challenge President Obama in what figures to be a close and expensive general election, hailed the milestone at a fundraiser in Las Vegas.
“This was a big day, by the way, 1,144, we finally got there,” Romney told donors who had raised as much as $250,000 each to attend the first event of the night with developer Donald Trump at his hotel just off the Strip. “It is a great honor.”
In remarks that could be heard by reporters in the lobby, Romney acknowledged the drawn-out primary fight.
“I know the road to 1,144 was long and hard, but I also know the road to ... Nov. 6 is also going to be long,” he said. “It’s going to be hard. And it’s going to be worth it because we’re going to take back the White House and get America right again.”
With his Texas victory, Romney exceeded the 1,144 delegates 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, 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 would 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. Two events with Trump 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.
Romney put a mathematical lock on the nomination later than any Republican candidate since 1976, when Ronald Reagan carried his challenge against President Ford to the convention. Four years ago, John McCain clinched it in early March.
This year’s extended contest was largely a result of two factors: Romney’s inability to rally his party in initial delegate tests and shifts in the primary calendar designed to forestall a rush to judgment. Party leaders ordered the changes in 2008 to prevent a future candidate from wrapping up the nomination before he or she could get adequate voter scrutiny, possibly harming Republican chances in the fall.
Even though Romney failed to gain a delegate majority until the latter stages of the primary season, he in effect secured the nomination long ago. On April 10, his last serious challenger, Rick Santorum, out of money and lacking a clear path to the nomination, exited the campaign. Two weeks later, Romney pivoted to the general election with a victory speech from behind a placard that read, “A better America begins tonight.”
Over the last month, he has installed new managers at national Republican headquarters in Washington and started meshing his campaign with party organizations in key states.
West reported from Washington and Mehta from Las Vegas. Melanie Mason in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.