WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney handily swept all five Republican presidential primaries across the Northeast Tuesday night, giving him a nearly insurmountable lead in delegates and effectively handing him the nomination.
Voters in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania turned out in low numbers, and the former Massachusetts governor was declared the winner in each of the states minutes after the polls closed.
The five primaries were the first since Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania, suspended his presidential campaign two weeks ago.
Romney is still about 400 delegates short of the number he needs to formally gain his party’s presidential nomination this summer at the Republican National Convention. There were 209 delegates at stake in Tuesday’s five primaries.
Newt Gingrich had campaigned heavily in Delaware, hoping to win the state. The former House speaker said after the primary results were tallied that he plans to finish a week of campaigning in North Carolina but acknowledged that he needs to look realistically at where he stands.
Gingrich is carrying more than $4.3 million in debt and has been spending more money than he is taking in.
In Connecticut, Romney won about 67 percent of the vote, with 90 percent of the precincts reporting. He was expected to win all the state’s 25 delegates that were up for grabs, as well as the support of the state’s three super delegates, according to Jerry Labriola, the chairman of Connecticut’s Republican Party.
“Garnering two-thirds of the vote in a four-way race is no small feat,’’ Labriola said. He attributed part of the victory to Monday night’s visit to the state by Romney’s wife, Ann, who was the keynote speaker at a sell-out fund-raiser in Stamford for the state’s GOP.
Representative Ron Paul garnered 14 percent of the vote, Gingrich had 11 percent, and Santorum had 7 percent. Santorum announced he was withdrawing from the race after it was too late to change the state’s primary ballot.
Romney made a campaign stop in Hartford this month, but the state election lost most of its excitement weeks ago with the withdrawal of Santorum, his leading rival. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said preliminary reports Tuesday night from local voting officials show that voter turnout ranged from around 10 percent to 13 percent.
It marked the first presidential primary since Connecticut officials decided last year to change the date in hopes of creating a regional primary with New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, theoretically giving the state’s voters more of an impact on the primary process. Connecticut had been a Super Tuesday state, holding its primary in February.
“You never know if it was going to make any difference,’’ said Merrill, when asked whether the change was a mistake. “Clearly, by now it’s sewn up. But the primary four years ago was still interesting at this point. You never know. Hard to call it.’’
In Rhode Island, Romney won 63 percent of the vote, with 89 percent of the precincts reporting.
Romney was heavily favored. The presumptive GOP nominee racked up endorsements from several top state Republicans in the months and weeks leading up the primary.
Voter Frederick Mason said Romney has been well vetted during the campaign and will mount a strong challenge to President Obama in the fall.
“He’s going to be the Republican candidate,’’ said Mason, of East Greenwich. “He’s a known quantity in these parts. I don’t agree with him 100 percent, but he’s a good candidate.’’