Romney Nomination Push by Republican Leaders
WASHINGTON — A senior Republican on Sunday pushed the "overwhelming" case for Mitt Romney to be crowned the party's presidential nominee, but the frontrunner's main rival Rick Santorum vowed to fight on.
The White House also signaled that it sees Romney as the likely Republican challenger to President Barack Obama in November, with Vice President Joe Biden attacking the former Massachusetts governor in a television interview.
Three months into a bitterly fought race for the nomination, Romney has a strong lead and polls suggest he will win three more primaries on Tuesday -- in Wisconsin, Maryland and the US capital Washington.
"He's going to be an excellent candidate, and I think the chances are overwhelming that he will be our nominee," said Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate.
"It seems to me we're in the final phases of wrapping up this nomination."
McConnell did not explicitly endorse Romney but suggested that the party should follow the lead of former president George H.W. Bush and Congressman Paul Ryan, a leading Republican and representative for Wisconsin, who did.
"It's absolutely apparent that it's in the best interests of our party at this particular point to get behind the person who is obviously going to be our nominee," McConnell said on CNN's "State of the Union" show.
"Most of the members of the Senate Republican conference are either supporting him, or they have the view that I do, that it's time to turn our attention to the fall campaign and begin to make the case against the president of the United States."
The Real Clear Politics website average poll had Romney, who has won 21 out of 34 nominating contests so far, leading Santorum 40 percent to 32.5 percent in Wisconsin.
But unless Romney can clinch the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination -- he currently has 565 -- he could be forced to wait until late August to get the nod at the Republican party's convention.
Santorum, who has racked up 11 victories but has less than half Romney's number of all-important Republican delegates, said he was determined to fight on despite efforts to anoint his rival.
"Absolutely, we're moving forward," Santorum said on "Fox News Sunday."
"The map in May looks very, very good for us -- Texas and Arkansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky. We've got some great states where we're ahead in almost every poll in those states."
A fervent Catholic and strong critic of abortion and gay rights who is popular with evangelicals, the former Pennsylvania senator again urged voters to back him instead of Romney.
"If you listen to folks all across the country, we're hearing 'stay in there, we need a conservative'," Santorum said.
"We cannot do what we've done in the past as Republicans, which is to settle for something that we know is not going to be successful.
"Always the establishment says we've got to nominate a moderate if we're going to win. And the one time we didn't was with Ronald Reagan -- that's when we won."
Romney has begun focusing almost exclusively on his likely battle against Obama.
In a campaign speech on Friday in Wisconsin, he didn't mention his Republican rivals once, opting instead to highlight his and the Democratic president's "fundamentally different visions for America."
"He's already playing the nominee, which is absolutely the right thing to do," American University professor Allan Lichtman told AFP.
"He doesn't need to savage his opponents, he just needs to look presidential and make distinctions between him and Obama," the political historian added.
Biden, meanwhile, laid into Romney, brushing off his attacks on Obama's handling of the economy.
"Governor Romney's a little out of touch," Biden said, arguing that the US economy had grown 24 months in a row and Americans were going back to work.
"What is the Romney answer? There is nothing. All they argue is cut," said Biden in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation" program.
Romney's two other opponents in the Republican race -- former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul -- on Sunday said they were not going to quit, despite lengthening odds.
"We're not going to concede it to him," Gingrich, who has won only two states during the campaign, told CBS.
Paul, who has no victories, when asked if he would continue, replied: "Obviously, yes."