WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has spent much of the past six years running for president, won the Texas primary tonight, giving him enough delegates to secure the Republican nomination and run against President Obama.
Romney was declared the Lone Star state winner by the Associated Press shortly after the polls closed at 9 p.m. Eastern time in Texas.
“Our party has come together with the goal of putting the failures of the last three and a half years behind us,’’ Romney said in a statement. “I have no illusions about the difficulties of the task before us. But whatever challenges lie ahead, we will settle for nothing less than getting America back on the path to full employment and prosperity.’’
Romney has been the presumptive nominee since his top rival, former senator Rick Santorum, dropped out in April. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, quit the race earlier this month and Representative Ron Paul has said he would no longer actively campaign, even in his home state of Texas.
Romney won’t become the official nominee until the end of August, when Republicans hold their convention in Tampa. But the vote tonight pushed his delegate count past the 1,144 needed. After accepting the nomination at the convention, Romney will be the first Mormon nominee from a major party, succeeding where others, including Senators Orrin Hatch and Mo Udall, and Romney’s father, George, did not. Mitt Romney lost the nomination to John McCain in 2008.
He is also the third presidential nominee from Massachusetts in the past quarter century, joining Democrats Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004. The last Republican nominee from Massachusetts was Calvin Coolidge, in 1924.
Although Romney dominated the primary field the past few months, he encountered several bumps early in the running. His several-vote win in the first nominating contest of Iowa almost five months ago would become a narrow loss to Santorum several weeks later after a final tally was made.
Romney’s resounding victory in New Hampshire ran into a brick wall in South Carolina.
Shortly after a sparsely attended rally in Florence, S.C., – one where songs like “We Will Rock You’’ and “We are the Champions’’ played before a crowd no bigger than 80 – Romney aides decided to call a press conference.
At the beginning, Ann Romney stood with reporters outside the campaign bus. Her husband looked toward her and pointed, “yes, that lady right there. I think I’ll like that question.’’
“Where’d the skinny jeans go?’’ she asked, laughing. Her husband promptly dismissed the question and opened it up to reporters. The next question was about his tax returns, and why he wasn’t releasing them.
Romney never fully recovered in South Carolina, losing handily to Newt Gingrich. Within days, Romney had released his tax returns, taken on a feistier approach, and benefited from a super PAC that ran blistering television ads.
He won Florida handily, effectively stunting Gingrich’s momentum. But within a week, Santorum had risen as a major threat, harnessing the anti-Romney energy within the party, particularly among social conservatives, evangelical Christians, and the working class.
Romney eventually snuffed out Santorum’s threat — through wins in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois – but he is still trying to consolidate support among those in the party that have remained wary.
That effort included meetings Tuesday with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and media personality Donald Trump. Both could play crucial roles in raising money for the next stage of Romney’s candidacy.
The journey – which Romney recently revealed he’s been documenting in a journal kept on his iPad – in many ways is just beginning.
While he’s traveled a long way since that windy day nearly a year ago, he’s still a long way from being addressed, as a Vietnam veteran addressed him that day, as “Mr. President.’’