Considering the gap between Romney and Bush on immigration policy, it’s not surprising that the former Florida governor was among the last holdouts for Romney. “We now have an arranged marriage,’’ said Republican consultant Alex Castellanos, who has advised Bush and Romney on past campaigns. “We’re not marrying for love but for convenience, and I think that’s the way a lot Republicans feel. If we couldn’t wait to honeymoon with Mitt Romney we would have married him earlier. Now it’s inevitable.’’
There’s still no sign that Romney’s rivals — Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, Gingrich, a former House speaker, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas — are taking the hint. All three have sworn to battle to the convention in August in Tampa, Fla.
Next up is Louisiana’s primary on Saturday. The Mormon ex-governor of Massachusetts has yet to win a contest in the Deep South. Santorum, a devout Catholic who has put family values at the center of his campaign, is favored to win. Still, a Santorum victory on Saturday, followed by a slew of contests in Romney-friendly states, are unlikely to alter the daunting delegate math he faces.
“This process has been over for a while, it just won’t conclude, and I’m not sure that changes now,’’ Castellanos said. “For the party’s sake, I’d love to pivot and start focusing on beating Barack Obama instead of a death march to the convention.’’
Inside the American Legion hall, packed with about 350 people, Romney couldn’t help but gloat a little. “It’s an honor to be here with you and come fresh from a couple of great things,’’ he said, referring to his victories in Illinois and Puerto Rico on Sunday. He also recounted getting the call from Bush, whose endorsement he had long sought. “I picked up the phone and I didn’t even have to ask,’’ Romney said. “He said, ‘I want to let you know I’m endorsing you today.' "
Rommey didn’t mention his rivals and targeted his remarks at President Obama. “I see our president attacking economic freedom and he doesn’t know what he’s doing,’’ he said. The straight-laced corporate executive seemed more buoyant than usual. “Avoid politics and you can avoid what I’m in the middle of right now,’’ he joked to a fellow businessman in the audience.
At the Romney rally, some voters expressed anxiety about the longer-than-usual nominating contest. “I’m ready for it to wrap up. I think it’s an ego issue for the others now,’’ said Suellen Phelan, a 64-year-old retiree from nearby Pasadena. “We need to get behind the winner.’’
But other voters said they weren’t in a hurry, echoing the majority in the exit polls in Illinois. Sixty-six percent said they preferred their candidate winning over the race ending soon. “It’s long, but that’s OK,’’ said Terry Acra, an undecided 65-year-old voter from Ellicott City. “The longer it goes on, the more we learn.’’