Manchester/Washington: Declaring that "a new America begins tonight", Mitt Romney crowned himself as the presumptive nominee of the Republican party to challenge Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.
"Tonight is the beginning of the end of the disappointment of the Obama years," he told a cheering crowd in Manchester, New Hampshire, the small northeastern state he hopes to win in November.
Mr Romney also began road testing some lines and themes that will be used in the six month-long general election campaign that lies ahead, audaciously claiming for himself the mantle of fairness and the defender of the middle-class.
One line in his speech echoed the successful slogan coined by Bill Clinton's campaign manager, James Carville, in 1992: "It's the economy, stupid."
"It's still about the economy... and we're not stupid," said Mr Romney.
He also laid out a series of benchmarks to reinforce his campaigns oft-stated purpose " to make the election a referendum on Mr Obamas stewardship of the economy.
"Is it easier to make ends meet? Is it easier to sell your home or buy a new one? Have you saved what you needed for retirement? Are you making more in your job? Do you have a better chance to get a better job? Do you pay less at the pump?"
Mr Obama's campaign has painted Mr Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat and a flip-flopper who has taken on deeply conservative policies to win over the Tea Party-infused Republican base.
Mr Romney's riposte is to portray Mr Obama as a nice but incompetent manager with a dangerous addiction to expanding the state.
"With Obamacare fully installed, government will come to control half the economy, and we will have effectively ceased to be a free enterprise society," he said.
With all of his major rivals out of the race, Mr Romney easily won Tuesday nights primaries in New York, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.
Going into Tuesday's contests, Mr Romney had 698 delegates, more than half the 1,144 he needs to secure the nomination, while his two remaining rivals, Newt Gingrich has only 138 and Ron Paul has 72, according to the Associated Press.
There were 231 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday night, with states including New York, with 95, awarding delegates on a proportional rather than winner-takes-all basis. That means Mr Romney will still have a way to go before he can formally clinch the nomination.
Though his closest rival Rick Santorum, who dropped out this month, has not officially endorsed Mr Romney, he said on Tuesday on CNN "it's very clear that he's going to be the Republican nominee and Im going to be for the Republican nominee."
He said he has plans to meet with the Romney team on Wednesday and with the candidate himself in the coming weeks.
Both Mr Paul, the libertarian and Texas congressman and Mr Gingrich, the former house speaker, have vowed to stay in the race until the Republican National Convention in Florida at the end of August.
"You don't quit because you happen to be behind. You want to see how you do," Mr Paul said on CNBC on Monday. "And who knows, maybe somebody will stumble. You cant ever tell."
"If tomorrow, Romney had the absolute number, I would probably continue in a modified way to maximise the number of delegates to go to the convention," Mr Paul said.
Mr Romney received a boost with the endorsement of Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and one-time presidential hopeful, who as recently as February had said Mr Romney had changed his position on virtually everything.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, the eve of New York's primary, Mr Giuliani struck a different tone, asking "who better than Mitt Romney to carry our banner" against Mr Obama.
Mr Romney will begin his campaign to introduce himself to voters, most of whom will only just be starting to tune into the election, with campaign events starting in coming days.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012
Posted on www.ft.com on April 25, 2012 1:37 am