The Washington Post:
For so long, he was the putative front-runner, the nominal front-runner, the weak front-runner. Then he became the all-but-certain nominee. And by Tuesday night, he’ll be able to ditch those modifiers.
Willard Mitt Romney is about to do what his father didn’t and no one in his church ever has. With Tuesday’s Texas primary, he is poised to secure the 1,144 delegates required to clinch the Republican presidential nomination at the party’s August convention.
It seems like forever ago that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were waving Etch a Sketches at their rallies in a last-ditch bid to stop Romney’s march to the nomination. The long slog of primaries effectively ended on April 3 with Romney’s victory in Wisconsin. Three weeks after that, the former Massachusetts governor returned to New Hampshire, where he launched his campaign on a windswept farm one year ago this week, to claim the mantle of nominee.
But it should become official on Tuesday, when Texas voters are expected to push Romney over the finish line in the delegate race. And with that, the Republican Party will have selected an unlikely standard-bearer for 2012: a New Englander in a party rooted in the South; a man of moderate temperament in a party fueled by hot rhetoric; a Mormon in a party guided by evangelical Christians; a flip-flopper in a party that demands ideological purity.
(...) After a year of criticism that he didn’t have the strength or shrewdness to take on President Obama, Romney has emerged from the bruising primary as a formidable adversary. With the race firmly in general-election mode, he is a more disciplined campaigner than he was a few months ago and has pulled even with Obama in many national and swing-state polls.
However reluctantly they may have settled on Romney, most Republicans are now rallying behind him. On Monday, about 5,000 people — one of the largest crowds of his campaign — turned out to see him pay tribute to veterans in San Diego.
Romney started sensing that enthusiasm on a cold morning three days after Christmas. He awoke in Muscatine, Iowa, and headed to a coffee shop for a quick campaign stop. It was before dawn, but his supporters had filled the cafe, snaked down a hallway and lined up in the street. Romney’s top strategist, Stuart Stevens, said he overheard a woman telling her child, “We’re here to see the next president.”
For a campaign used to having to place robo-calls and blast out e-mails to generate a crowd, this was a shock. A few hours later in Clinton, Iowa, another shock: So many people turned out to see Romney give his stump speech at Homer’s Deli & Sweetheart Bakery that he gave a second speech at Rastrelli’s, an Italian restaurant across the street.
“What a crowd! What a welcome!” Romney gushed, a little bewildered. “This response in Clinton comes as a bit of a surprise, I have to tell you.”
Now, five months later, Romney is set to make history as the first Mormon to become a major party’s presidential nominee. At age 65, he has finally achieved what his hero — his father, George — did not.