US election: Goodbye Newt as Romney focuses on Obama

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann address a campaign rally Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mitt Romney's camp is hoping they can put the bitter party infighting behind them

Newt Gingrich's words could stand for the mood of the whole Republican party.

"I think you have to at some point be honest with what's happening in the real world, as opposed to what you'd like to have happened," he said of Mitt Romney's clean sweep of five states.

You may note that the former House Speaker hasn't quite arrived at the point of honesty where he is accepting reality. But the fantasy that he can become the Republican candidate is all but over.

Mr Romney had already made his choice. The string of victories does not make him his party's official candidate. But he has chosen to behave as though it does.

This is not arrogance, but good political sense. If only Ron Paul is left standing against him there is no serious hurdle to his adoption. Baring the truly unexpected it will be Romney v Obama in the autumn.

Many Republicans, feel the demolition derby has gone on long enough and it is time for a more uplifting and elegant parade.

One where Mitt Romney can carve lumps out of the president, rather than one where he has to put up with being the object of attack by his own side.

So he announced that "a better America begins tonight", and, in a speech relentlessly focused on jobs, tore up the old Clinton slogan and said: "It's still about the economy, and we're not stupid".

It was both a good speech and standard fare, not using harsh rhetoric against Barack Obama but just painting him as a failure with faulty vision.

There is a handy reminder here that this is Romney's 97th "pivot" since the primaries began. That is not really his fault, but that of lazy journalists who hear something as new even when it is not.

Ever since the whole business got underway in earnest in January, in every Romney speech I've listened to - and it already feels like a lot - his unrelenting focus has been on Mr Obama, not the other candidates.

'Feet to the fire'

Still, this time there is perhaps something different. Even many Tea Party supporters I talk to feel it is time to knuckle down and back not the man they want, but the man they've got.

One strong conservative campaigner, Sam DeMarco, was outside a polling station in Oakdale, Pennsylvania handing out leaflets when I met him.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Romney's relationship with voters from the Tea Party movement will be closely watched

"I'm ABO: Anything But Obama," he said. "We mustn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good".

But he also explained something that Tea Party supporters have told me many times before. That is that what they do in supporting like-minded candidates, in local as well as national races, is important to push the others to the right.

He said they would hold Mr Romney's "feet to the fire". This could be awkward for the candidate, who needs to make centrist voters feel comfortable.

It will be interesting to see how he plays this in the coming weeks, and whether he can sell practical plans for the economy to the voters rather than vague rhetoric about freedom designed to raise cheers from a conservative crowd.

It may not be a better America, but it was a deliberate new phase in the Romney campaign.

He is focused on the White House, and the White House is focused on him. Game on.

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