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Romney wins Republican primaries in Maryland and D.C.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will win Tuesday’s Republican primary in Maryland and Washington, D.C., according to media reports.

The Republican establishment has been steadily coalescing behind the former Massachusetts governor, and a triple victory Tuesday in Maryland, Wisconsin and the US capital Washington would leave Romney with more than half the delegates he needs to clinch his party’s presidential nomination.

He is already acting like the nominee, training his political fire on Obama and his “government-centered society” and no longer mentioning his Republican rivals while on the campaign trail.

Obama on Tuesday also essentially helped kick off a new phase in the general election campaign, rebuking Romney by name and calling him to account for supporting what the Democratic president sees as a “radical” budget passed by congressional conservatives last week.

Obama, seeking a second term in the November elections, accused Romney of championing cutthroat “social Darwinism” that neglects the middle class and favors the wealthy, and said the Republican candidate is seeking to institute the budget on “day one of his presidency.”

The blueprint’s author, Representative Paul Ryan, has campaigned for the last several days with Romney across Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, expected to be Tuesday’s tightest race.

Romney holds a 7.5-percent lead in the polls in the midwestern state over his main rival Rick Santorum, who has also spent days criss-crossing the state.

Republicans in Maryland are seen as more moderate, and Romney is heavily favored here. In Washington, also favorable to Romney, Santorum failed to get his name on the ballot.

Romney’s campaign is eager to cement its claim that he is the inevitable nominee, and that rivals Santorum and former House speaker Newt Gingrich should now bow out gracefully rather than prolong a bitter Republican battle.

But Santorum supporters in a wealthy Maryland suburb said their candidate should stay in the race in order to keep issues like the swelling debt, federal spending and social issues on the agenda.

“It’s not over,” Stephanie Froehlich told AFP after she and her husband cast their votes for Santorum at a church in Chevy Chase, where voter turnout was light.

“Romney doesn’t have the 1,144 (delegates) that he needs, and until he gets that golden number, let’s keep it going,” the 45-year-old mother said.

But Republican voter David Beightol argued that such a move would only be a distraction from the main objective of ousting Obama from the White House.

“It’s jobs and the economy and no matter if anybody else might try to have a focus on a different shiny object, that’s what matters,” Beightol said.

“After today Romney will have so much momentum it will be hard for others to stay in. They might just stay in because they are kind of career politicians, but mathematically, it’s over.”

While most signs point to Romney as the party’s eventual flag-bearer, his prospects get cloudier looking beyond the nominations battle.

A USA Today/Gallup poll on Monday showed Obama leading 49 to 45 percent over Romney nationally among registered voters in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup on November 6, the largest lead to date in Gallup polling.

Obama’s lead in 12 swing states was even greater, with the president ahead 51-42 on average in key states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

That marks a dramatic shift in fortunes for Obama, who a month ago trailed Romney by two percentage points in swing states.

The numbers also showed waning enthusiasm among Republicans, with the decline “especially apparent among Romney voters,” Gallup researchers reported.

Romney has met stubborn skepticism from conservatives, who fear that the former governor of liberal Massachusetts will tack to the left once he wins the nomination in order to appeal to independents.

That scenario is fodder for Santorum, a harsh critic of abortion and gay rights who has tapped into conservative angst about the frontrunner.

The former Pennsylvania senator, in an interview with CNN, insisted the race was “a lot closer than Mitt Romney and the pundits are spinning,” and said he could win a string of more conservative state primaries in May.

Romney has won 21 out of 34 contests so far and amassed some 565 delegates of the 1,144 needed for the nomination. Santorum has racked up 11 victories and has less than half Romney’s delegate count.

With reporting by Raw Story

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