WASHINGTON – On a sunny windswept day, Mitt Romney appeared at the Bittersweet Farm in New Hampshire, served up his wife’s special chicken-and-bean chili, and, in a speech that oozed patriotism, he formally announced he was running for president.
“I’m Mitt Romney,” he said by way of introduction. “I believe in America.”
On Tuesday, almost exactly a year later, Romney found himself in far different circumstances: Along the Las Vegas strip, he planned to meet with casino magnate and top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. He was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser with Donald Trump. And, by the end of the night, he was expected to be all-but-crowned the Republican nominee after the votes in Texas were counted.
It’s a position Romney has enjoyed for the past month – since his last serious threat, Rick Santorum, dropped out of the race – but on Tuesday night he is expected to secure the 1,144 delegates he needs to officially clinch the nomination.
‘‘It’ll be a big day tomorrow,’’ Romney reportedly said aboard his campaign plane on Monday night. ‘‘I’m looking forward to the good news.’’
But some of his meetings on Tuesday illustrate the lingering problems he still has to fix. Adelson, who poured money into the super PAC supporting one-time Romney rival Newt Gingrich, has yet to donate to Romney’s super PAC. Romney will appear on Tuesday night at a fundraiser held at the Trump International Hotel.
But Trump’s continued push to bring President Obama’s birth certificate into the national political discussion illustrates the struggles Romney faces in his efforts to both win over conservatives skeptical of him during the primary while simultaneously appealing to independents needed in the general election.
Romney won’t become the official nominee until the end of August, when Republicans hold their convention in Tampa. But 1,144 delegates are needed for the nomination, and Romney started Tuesday just 58 shy. Texas has 152 delegates, and with no other candidate vying for votes it is likely that Romney will secure the votes he needs to formally mark the end of the primary.
His several-vote win in Iowa – which, in the final tally several weeks later, became a narrow loss – and his resounding victory in New Hampshire ran into a brick wall in South Carolina.
Shortly after a sparsely attended rally in Florence, S.C., – one where songs like “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions” played before a crowd no bigger than 80 – Romney aides decided to call a press conference.
At the beginning, Ann Romney stood with reporters outside the campaign bus. Her husband looked toward her and pointed, “yes, that lady right there. I think I’ll like that question.”
“Where’d the skinny jeans go?” she asked, laughing. Her husband promptly dismissed the question and opened it up to reporters. The next question was about his tax returns, and why he wasn’t releasing them.
Romney never fully recovered in South Carolina, losing handily to Newt Gingrich. Within days, Romney had released his tax returns, taken on a feistier approach, and benefited from a super PAC that ran blistering television ads.
He won Florida handily, effectively stunting Gingrich’s momentum. But within a week, Santorum had risen as a major threat, harnessing the anti-Romney energy within the party, particularly among social conservatives, evangelical Christians, and the working class.
Romney eventually snuffed out Santorum -- through wins in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois – but is still trying to consolidate support among those in the party that have remained wary.
But he is now on the precipice of doing what his father, George, was unable to do. He’s about to become the first Mormon to be his party’s nominee, and the first Republican nominee from Massachusetts since Calvin Coolidge in 1924.
But the journey – which Romney recently revealed he’s been documenting in a journal kept on his iPad – in many ways is just beginning.
While he’s traveled a long way since that windy day nearly a year ago, he’s still a long way from being addressed, as a Vietnam veteran addressed him that day, as “Mr. President.”