The New York Times:
Mitt Romney is on the cusp of taking firm control of the Republican nominating contest for the first time, neutralizing his most powerful critics and rallying a broad spectrum of conservatives behind him as party leaders grow increasingly eager to take on President Obama.
A victory over Rick Santorum in Wisconsin on Tuesday would effectively close the first phase of the primary season, senior Republicans say. It would leave Mr. Romney with not only a commanding lead in the race for delegates, but also a claim to have fended off energetic challenges across a range of battleground states with a disciplined and well-financed campaign effort.
Mr. Romney and his aides continue to work behind the scenes to win support from respected voices in the party and prepare in earnest to take on Mr. Obama. The campaign will soon start raising money for the general election, donors said, as well as drastically expand its Boston headquarters and build state operations across the country.
The Romney campaign is also taking steps to infuse the organization with seasoned advisers, Republicans said, and intensifying its research of prospective running mates.
(...) Reflecting the growing impatience, Steven J. Law, president of the largest outside group planning to support Republicans this fall, Crossroads, said on Saturday, “Clearly there is a sentiment out there that the time is coming soon to really turn our full attention to Obama.”
Predicting an “incredibly tough election,” he added that “every day that Republicans are focused on anything other than Obama’s record is a day wasted.”
Party elders are discussing ways to help characterize Mr. Romney as the presumptive nominee — perhaps by the end of April — well before he reaches the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination.
That effort was helped along by the billionaire casino executive Sheldon Adelson, who, after sending $15 million of his family’s fortune to the “super PAC” supporting Newt Gingrich, was quoted by The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles last week as saying Mr. Gingrich seemed to have reached “the end of his line.”
Mr. Adelson did so after telling a number of Romney financial supporters who were at his Las Vegas mansion for the opening dinner of the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition that he was ready to do whatever he could to help Mr. Romney become president and to deliver the Senate to the Republicans.
An attendee of the private dinner said in an interview that the general sense there was “that the page had clearly been turned” and that it was time to focus on the general election.
(...) “I don’t think he’s presumptive just yet, but I do think we’re near a tipping point,” said Ed Gillespie, a former Republican Party chairman and White House counselor to President George W. Bush who supports Mr. Romney. “April is pretty happy hunting ground for him, and he’s got some potentially significant delegate accumulation ahead.”
All the same, the protracted Republican primary season has paid dividends for Mr. Romney. At fund-raisers last week in California and Texas, donors said, he raised more money than he had initially expected. A swing through Dallas, Houston and San Antonio netted more than $2 million.
“It’s made people very willing to give — just to get on with the next stage of the race,” said Ray Washburne, a Dallas businessman and top fund-raiser who had dinner last week with Mr. Romney. “A lot of people who had been holding back are like, ‘We’re ready to go.’ ”