With wins in Wisconsin, Maryland, and D.C., Romney advances decisively toward the GOP nomination, even as his rivals stay in.
Updated, 11 p.m.
Mitt Romney got what he needed Tuesday night: No surprises.
Romney rolled to victory in the Republican primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., gaining enough delegates to put him more than halfway to the 1,144 required to mathematically seal the nomination.
With 35 percent reporting, Romney had 42 percent of the vote in Wisconsin to Rick Santorum's 38 percent -- a narrow win, but a win nonetheless. For Santorum, there are no more moral victories and no prizes for second place.
Ron Paul took 12 percent and Newt Gingrich just 6 percent of the vote in the Badger State. For Gingrich, that seemed a clear sign that even if he thinks he's still in the race, few voters agree.
Romney's margin in Maryland was more decisive: With 55 percent reporting, he had 47 percent of the vote to Santorum's 30 percent. In the nation's capital, where Santorum failed to make the ballot, Romney took 71 percent of the vote.
In a primary race that has constantly sought finality -- each high-stakes, competitive contest hyped as The One That Will Finally End It, only to do no such thing -- this may be the closest we get to the moment Romney sewed it up. His three rivals are still in the race, with no indication any of them plans to drop out anytime soon.
But it was telling that only Romney waited until after the results were in to give a victory speech Tuesday night. Santorum spoke before Wisconsin was called, and Gingrich and Paul didn't make a primary night appearance at all. Romney's rivals have convinced themselves that such technical matters as who wins and by how much are incidental to their larger project of somehow, perhaps by magic, denying Romney the nomination.
And so the primary campaign has entered its talking-past-each-other stage, as Santorum insists he is still competing with Romney and Romney ignores him to focus on the general election and President Obama. It's like one of those football matchups where only the lesser team thinks it's a rivalry -- Colorado vs. Nebraska was like this when I was growing up, or Princeton vs. Yale.
To beat Obama, Santorum told a crowd at his election-night event in Mars, Pennsylvania, "We need someone whose convictions are forged in steel, not on an Etch A Sketch." He said he was looking forward to victory in his home state, which votes on April 24. And he pleaded with Republicans not to make the mistake of 1976, when Ronald Reagan battled all the way to the convention, only to be passed over for the moderate -- and eventual loser -- Gerald Ford.
But Romney, speaking in Milwaukee, didn't so much as acknowledge his lingering Republican opposition. He delivered a version of the new stump speech he introduced last week, bashing Obama for seeking a "government-centered society" in which innovation is stifled and the economy doesn't grow. And he redoubled his attempt to cast Obama as a shallow egotist, saying, "Years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by adoring staff of true believers telling you what a great job you're doing -- it's enough to make you think you might become a little out of touch."
Romney was introduced Tuesday night by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP budget architect who was the target, along with Romney, of a scorching attack by Obama earlier Tuesday. Ryan is a wonkish type who's struck up a clear rapport with Romney during the days they spent campaigning across the state together, intensifying rumblings that the congressman might be considered as a running mate.
"Tonight, Wisconsinites have spoken," Ryan said as he introduced Romney from the stage. "Republicans are unifying."