Mitt Romney clinched the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday with a resounding victory in Texas and now faces a five-month sprint to convince voters to trust him over Democratic President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election.
Although the race has been essentially over for weeks, Romney finally cleared the necessary benchmark of 1,144 delegates for becoming the Republicans' presidential candidate after a long, bitter primary battle with a host of conservative rivals.
He will be formally nominated at the Republicans' convention in Florida in late August.
In a statement sent to supporters, Romney said he is "grateful and humbled by your support through this process", adding that while "this has been an extraordinary journey" - "it's only the beginning." In Tampa, Romney promised, "we will stand united as a party with a winning ticket for America. Ours will be a campaign to unite every American who knows in his or her heart that we can do better."
Romney was busy campaigning in Colorado and Nevada, where he was joined by his former rival Newt Gingrich. In Las Vegas, he was able to feel what it is like to be a presidential candidate. Just like Barack Obama had to undergo scrutiny over his connections with former radical left leader Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, this week, Mitt Romney got questioned for the bear hug he received from the billionaire Donald Trump, who threw him a fundraiser on Tuesday. Trump, who reaffirmed this week his doubts about President Obama being born in the US, could be uneasy match for Romney - but so far, Romney, courting support of the conservative camp, proved unwilling to say anything harsh about Trump's "birther" allegations against Obama.
Romney will also need to limit distractions such as that presented by Trump.
Trump in recent days has resurrected the issue of Obama's birth certificate to raise questions about whether the president meets the constitutional requirement of being a natural-born citizen of the United States.
The topic had seemed to run out of steam a year ago when the White House produced the president's detailed "certificate of live birth" from Hawaii, but Trump told CNN he is not convinced of the document's authenticity.
Romney aides did not like the distraction but would rather have Trump helping Romney raise money for an expensive battle against Obama rather than sitting on the sidelines.
Romney himself did not address the issue head-on, instead issuing a statement through his campaign spokeswoman that said Romney has said repeatedly he believes Obama was born in the United States.
"You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me. My guess is they don't agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more, and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people," he told reporters.
Romney endured serious threats from Republican opponents from Rick Perry to Rick Santorum to reach a goal that his late father, former Michigan governor George Romney, fell short of achieving -- win his party's stamp of approval as its presidential candidate.
He is considered the underdog in his battle with the Democratic incumbent but all indications are that Americans face the possibility of a cliffhanger election in November that will be decided by relatively small percentages of voters in as many as a dozen battleground states.
The former Massachusetts governor now faces a lengthy to-do list to gird for his duel with Obama, from picking a vice presidential running mate to raising hundreds of millions of dollars for a national campaign.
In the immediate weeks ahead, his goal is to bolster his case that Obama has been ineffective in handling the sluggish U.S. economy and hostile to job creators.
This argument will move soon to the energy industry, which Romney thinks Obama has bungled by not ramping up domestic production of oil and natural gas.
Romney in weeks ahead will turn to Obama's 2010 healthcare overhaul. The U.S. Supreme Court is to decide in late June on the constitutionality of the law's requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance.
Romney has vowed to repeal the law if elected, citing it as an example of too much government under Obama. He has faced criticism from Republicans for the healthcare overhaul he developed for Massachusetts that Obama has called a model for revamping the U.S. system.
Winning the nomination put to rest any lingering suggestion that Romney could face a conservative challenge at the Republican convention in Florida in late August as Gingrich had threatened to do when the race was still close.
Romney is trying to overcome wariness among conservatives, who mistrust his record in Massachusetts where he introduced a healthcare reform that they say was a blueprint for Obama's 2010 U.S. healthcare overhaul program that was approved in Congress despite heavy Republican opposition.
"I was looking forward to voting for Rick Santorum," said voter Dan Cortez in San Antonio. He said he would now back Romney, for he believes it is important to elect "anybody who can beat Obama."
Texan Republicans on Tuesday also choose their candidate for a U.S. Senate race in November. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst faces former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz in the primary. It will end up in a July runoff if neither man can reach 50 percent support.
Democrats were quick to react to his victory. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement that “this November, Americans will have a clear choice between an economy that is built to last and one that is built on outsourcing, loopholes, and risky financial deals that jeopardize our entire economy and threaten the security of the middle class. Those failed policies are not what Americans want, and that’s why they won’t support Mitt Romney in the fall.”
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