WASHINGTON - On a sunny, windswept day last June, Mitt Romney appeared at the Bittersweet Farm in New Hampshire, served up his wife’s chicken-and-bean chili, and, in a speech packed with patriotic themes, formally announced he was running for president.
Almost exactly a year later, he finds himself in far different surroundings. A few hours before primary voters in Texas on Tuesday night gave him enough delegates to secure the Republican Party’s nomination, Romney was on the Las Vegas Strip, holding court with casino magnate and top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson inside his opulent Venetian Hotel. Several blocks away, he appeared at a fund-raiser with high-profile developer Donald Trump, whose comments on President Obama often upstaged Romney.
The visits indicate the full-out blitz - both for raising vast amounts of money and reaching out to all corners of the Republican Party - now required of the Republican standard-bearer as he shifts to a crucial three-month period before the GOP convention.
Adelson and his wife, Miriam, poured $20 million into the super PAC supporting onetime Romney rival Newt Gingrich, but have yet to donate to the one supporting Romney. With the race against Obama expected to be the most expensive ever, donors with such deep pockets as Adelson’s will be courted carefully.
Trump has helped Romney raise money, but with his support comes controversy. Trump continues to try to thrust Obama’s birth certificate into the national political discussion. Such distractions complicate Romney’s efforts to simultaneously appeal to conservatives and independents.
Trump upstaged Romney at nearly every turn on Tuesday. Before Romney appeared at a campaign stop in Craig, Colo., to pillory Obama’s economic policies, Trump went on CNBC and said, “A lot of people are questioning [Obama’s] birth certificate.’’ As Romney climbed down the stairs of his airplane in Las Vegas, Trump’s was visible in all of the shots behind him. Later, Trump appeared on CNN and argued with host Wolf Blitzer over whether the birth certificate assertion was “ridiculous.’’
Trump, who briefly toyed with running for president, endorsed Romney earlier this year; the campaign is sponsoring a raffle for tickets to dine with Romney and Trump.
Romney has said he believes Obama was born in the United States, but he has done little to disavow Trump, or his comments.
“You know, I don’t agree with all the people who support me,’’ Romney told reporters Monday. “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.’’
On Tuesday, the Romney campaign released Romney’s birth certificate to Reuters news service, confirming that he was born in Detroit on March 12, 1947. It also confirms his father, George, was born in Mexico, his mother, Lenore, in Utah.
President Obama’s campaign denounced Romney for not doing more to distance himself from discredited assertions that Obama was not born in this country, part of an emerging theme as they seek to cast him as a weak politician.
“If Mitt Romney lacks the backbone to stand up to a charlatan like Donald Trump because he’s so concerned about lining his campaign’s pockets, what does that say about the kind of president he would be?’’ Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said in a statement.
The Trump discussion dominated the news coverage on the day Romney finally secured the nomination, after committing much of his past six years toward that goal. The Texas result was expected, with his main rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich having dropped out. The remaining major candidate on the ballot, Representative Ron Paul, has quit campaigning, even in his home state of Texas.
In securing the nomination, Romney becomes the first Republican nominee from Massachusetts since Calvin Coolidge in 1924. He also becomes the first Mormon nominee for president, and accomplishes a feat that eluded his father, George.
Romney did little to mark the occasion, other than releasing a statement: “I have no illusions about the difficulties of the task before us. But whatever challenges lie ahead, we will settle for nothing less than getting America back on the path to full employment and prosperity.’’
Romney campaign staffers held a celebration in Boston, where hats handed out had “The Long Slog’’ stitched on.
The message going forward, his staff said, would remain consistent. “The focus is going to stay, as it has been, on jobs and the economy,’’ said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “That’s what compelled Governor Romney to get in the race. That’s why he’s running.’’
Romney, however, faces obstacles on several other fronts. He must now appeal to Hispanic voters he alienated during the primaries with his hard-line immigration stance. He needs to convince voters that he can empathize with their problems and concerns, and he needs to both energize the Republican base as well as win over some of those skeptical of him, including women and minorities.
To do that, Romney has bulked up his staff, adding a “coalitions director’’ to oversee outreach to various groups, including veterans, Hispanics, and African Americans. His campaign has also been coordinating more closely with the Republican National Committee to build a network of volunteers in crucial states.
Romney also has a potential health care curveball, with a Supreme Court decision coming within weeks that could strike down Obama’s law. The issue remains tough political terrain for Romney. Although he has vowed to repeal Obama’s federal law, Romney passed the state-level precursor while governor of Massachusetts. He has yet to fully spell out what changes he would make on a federal level.
Despite Tuesday’s vote in Texas, Romney will not become the official nominee until the end of August, when Republicans hold their convention in Tampa.
Although Romney has dominated the primaries in the past two months, the road has not always been smooth. The contests started with Romney’s several-vote win in Iowa - which, in the final tally several weeks later, became a narrow loss. His much-touted campaign resoundingly won in New Hampshire before running into a brick wall in South Carolina.
Beset by poor debate performances and questions over why he would not release his tax returns, Romney lost in the Southern state to Gingrich. Within days, Romney had released his tax returns, taken on a feistier approach, and benefited from a super PAC, Restore Our Future, that ran blistering television ads.
He won Florida handily, effectively stunting Gingrich’s momentum. But within two weeks, Santorum had risen as a major threat, harnessing the anti-Romney energy within the party.
Romney eventually snuffed out Santorum’s threat - through wins in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois. And he clinched his victory in the home state of Governor Rick Perry.
While he has traveled a long way since that windy day on a New Hampshire farm nearly a year ago, he is still a long way from being addressed, as a Vietnam veteran called him that day, as “Mr. President.’’Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.