Every presidential campaign is stitched together by a series of key moments, and Republicans are casting this Tuesday as a big one for Mitt Romney.
Though Romney has already dispatched most of his rivals from the race and is embracing his role as the presumptive nominee, the Republican National Committee and the Romney campaign have chosen tomorrow's primaries as the moment they are likely to make it official.
More than 200 delegates are up for grabs in states from Rhode Island to Pennsylvania in Tuesday's contests. Even if he sweeps all five states, as he is expected to do, Romney still won't cross the delegate threshold he'll need to officially clinch the nomination.
But that doesn't matter.
In an interview with ABC News in Scottsdale, Ariz., RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said that "Tuesday is going to be very important" as the committee moves to "further accelerate the communication between the RNC and Governor Romney's campaign."
While Priebus said the RNC would continue to "show respect" for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul, Tuesday's primaries will pave the way toward a "complete and total merger between the RNC and the presumptive nominee."
That means continuing to link up fundraising - a process that has already started - as well as integrating the RNC and the campaign's communications shops, their political, ground and get-out-the-vote operations.
Chairman Priebus also suggested that both Gingrich and Paul would soon need to "accept in an adult way where we need to be as a Republican National Committee in winning this race."
Team Romney has been bulking up their operation, adding key staff at their headquarters in Boston and in battleground states. Last week, the campaign also announced its best fundraising month of the campaign, pulling in more than $12.6 million in March - a sum still dwarfed by what the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised.
And that alone is a critical reason why both Romney and top Republican leaders want to pivot fully from the primary to the general election A.S.A.P.
ROMNEY CAMP: KEEPING COUNT. The coalescing around Mitt Romney continued at an RNC gathering in Arizona this weekend. Romney's allies on the Republican National Committee say they left the conference with more than 120 pledges of support - some public, some private but all in writing - from members of the Committee, including state chairs and committeemen and women. Romney supporters passed out a pledge form Friday before Romney addressed the group asking for signatures from members indicating their support for the former Massachusetts governor. According to Romney sources on the committee, more than 120 members signed the pledge, vowing to back Romney at the Republican National Convention. There are 168 RNC "super delegates" who can vote in Tampa. The pledge indicates that the campaign is actively trying to dot the I's and cross the T's and of their effort to shore up influential GOP leaders and reduce the chance for any drama in Florida.
MARCO RUBIO'S VEEP TRY-OUT. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will campaign with Romney today in Pennsylvania. And as ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR AMY WALTER notes, despite all of his best attempts at tamping down speculation about his potential to be a vice presidential pick, Rubio remains the most talked about running mate. Still, many believe that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman remains the odds-on-favorite. While a Romney-Rubio ticket may help shore up Romney's vulnerability among Latinos, it strays from Romney's core message about the economy. Romney-Portman would be a CEO-CFO ticket. Not terribly exciting, but competent and highly focused on one thing: the economy.
@rickklein : Edwards '16? he starts at 3 percent approval rating; 2 percent among women. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0412/75458.html
WATCH THIS: JAKE TAPPER GOES INSIDE THE GOP WAR ROOM. Political Punch's dynamic duo of Jake Tapper and Devin Dwyer got an exclusive look inside the committee's anti-Obama attack machine, and the space they call "the war room." "We said from the very beginning … we were going to get this building in fighting shape for the Republican nominee, and part of that - in today's news cycle, 24/7 - is to be on things instantly," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told ABC's Jake Tapper. Attack plans are hatched daily in a morning meeting, where a team headed by RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer constantly maps and monitors every move of the president and his surrogates. In the "war room," a group of young workers are practically glued to their computer screens, waiting to catch the next Hilary Rosen moment. "We - 24/7 - monitor print news, online news, TV, radio, Twitter, Facebook," said Spicer. We try to capture everything that's going on in real time so that we know what's happening … and we're able to respond within seconds." Mike Danylak, Director of the War Room (and yes, that is his official title), said, "I can say at one time or another, everyone in this room has caught something." WATCH: http://yhoo.it/IgkN6k
"THIS WEEK" REWIND: GEORGE WILL, PEGGY NOONAN, MATTHEW DOWD ON THE VEEPSTAKES. As speculation over who Mitt Romney will choose as his running mate reaches a fever pitch, ABC'S GEORGE WILL struck one big name off the list of possibilities on Sunday: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. "If Jeb Bush is to be Romney's running mate, it would mean that in seven of nine presidential elections there would be a Bush on the Republican ticket," Will said today on "This Week." "And it gets hard to argue that we're not a tribal society at that point." Instead, Will said Romney should take a serious look at House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. http://abcn.ws/JlrAlC
ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST MATTHEW DOWD said the idea that a running mate will help a candidate pick up a certain demographic or region of the country is "folly." "If I were them, I'd be looking at somebody to pick to reinforce a value that you want to convey in this election," Dowd said during the "This Week" roundtable discussion. "It's some level of competence, I'm the adult in the room, you may not like us, but we're going to manage the government, we're going to do things right. They need to find somebody in my view that reinforces that, no matter where they're from."
WALL STREET JOURNAL COLUMNIST PEGGY NOONAN says the No. 1 goal for Romney should be avoiding the fiasco that ensued for the last GOP nominee, John McCain, after he chose Sarah Palin in 2008. "No game-change," Noonan said, referring to the book-turned movie, "Game Change," that detailed Palin's vice presidential bid. "Don't do that again. Underscore who you want to be: serious."
KEITH OLBERMANN ON DOG-GATE 'ABSURDITY.' After a week of dog-eat-dog politicking between President Obama and Mitt Romney's respective campaigns, Keith Olbermann said Sunday that the "dog-gate" controversies have gotten out of hand. "It raises the level of absurdity to something exponential," Olbermann said on "This Week" about the Romney campaign criticizing Obama for consuming dog meat when he was 6 years old. "With so many valuable questions going on, we're wasting most of the time dealing with the dogs," the former MSNBC and CurrentTV host said. http://abcn.ws/Ji3GFw
SUSAN COLLINS AND CAROLYN MALONEY ON SECRET SERVICE SCANDAL. Sen. Susan Collins said Sunday morning that according to Secret Service director Mark Sullivan, there is no evidence that the women who were allegedly solicited by agents in Colombia earlier this month were underage. "He told me that at this point there is no evidence of underage women," said Collins, R-Maine. Collins joined Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. on "This Week." Both suggested that the sex scandal that has engulfed the Secret Service could potentially have been prevented if more women were part of the organization. "I can't help but wonder if there'd been more women as part of that detail if this ever would have happened," said Collins. "I can't help but keep asking this question 'where are the women,'" added Maloney. " We probably need to diversify the Secret Service and have more minorities and more women." http://abcn.ws/I1HWz6
OBAMA LOOKS TO BYPASS CONGRESS ON POLICY GOALS. "[Increasingly] in recent months, the administration has been seeking ways to act without Congress. Branding its unilateral efforts 'We Can't Wait,' a slogan that aides said Mr. Obama coined at that strategy meeting, the White House has rolled out dozens of new policies - on creating jobs for veterans, preventing drug shortages, raising fuel economy standards, curbing domestic violence and more," The New York Times' Charlie Savage reports. "Aides say many more such moves are coming. Not just a short-term shift in governing style and a re-election strategy, Mr. Obama's increasingly assertive use of executive action could foreshadow pitched battles over the separation of powers in his second term, should he win and Republicans consolidate their power in Congress." http://nyti.ms/IjfirF
CAN ROMNEY WIN? Time Magazine's Jon Meacham looks into his crystal ball: "The Obama-Romney campaign will be close all the way to the end, and the president will have to find more to say about Romney than Romney's fallen GOP foes did. Obama knows this, for he's been to this movie before. Remember the Clinton argument against Senator Obama becoming President Obama: that he was not ready for the job. Republicans also tried to make that case (among others) in 2008, and Senator Obama became President Obama. Get ready, then, for a few months of soft launches for anti-Romney arguments from the Democratic camp until it finds one that can't be shaken off." http://wp.me/p1RTSY-3Cm
GOP GROUPS HELP ROMNEY CLOSE CASH GAP WITH OBAMA. "President Barack Obama held a 10- to-1 cash advantage at the start of this month in the campaign fundraising contest with Republican Party front-runner Mitt Romney," reports Bloomberg News' Greg Giroux and Jonathan D. Salant. "The president had $100 million in the bank at the end of March, while the former Massachusetts governor had $10 million in cash, according to disclosure forms filed with the Federal Election Commission. In prior presidential races, such a financial imbalance would define the dynamics of the race as a cash-strapped challenger facing an empowered incumbent. Not so this year, as Obama's fundraising advantage shrinks to 2-to-1 when independent political groups aligned with the Republican Party are matched against the president and his Democratic allies. … As they did in 2010, Republican super-political action committees and groups organized as tax-exempt public policy organizations are out-raising the Democrats with the help of multi-million dollar donations from wealthy individuals and corporations." http://bloom.bg/I7QlRf
IS BILL CLINTON OBAMA'S 'CAMPAIGN WHISPERER'? "Barack Obama's top advisers are making a mid-'core' correction in their attacks on Mitt Romney - with a little nudge from Bill Clinton, who is finding a niche as an Obama campaign whisperer and fundraiser," Politico's Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin write. "Late last year, as Romney galloped to the right, Obama's messaging team hit on what it assumed would be a durable bumper-sticker attack: Romney, senior advisers David Plouffe and David Axelrod intoned time and again, was a political shape-shifter who lacked any real moral or political 'core.' The slogan was the Obama talking point for months. But Clinton, echoing survey data presented by Obama's own pollster Joel Benenson, quietly argued that the empty-core approach failed to capitalize on what they see as Romney's greatest vulnerability: An embrace of a brand of tea party conservatism that turns off Hispanics, women and moderate independents. A more effective strategy, Clinton has told anyone who would listen, would be to focus almost exclusively on Romney's description of himself as a 'severe conservative,' to deny him any chance to tack back to the center, according to three Democrats close to the situation." http://politi.co/I7x6ms
THE EVOLUTION OF ANN ROMNEY. Buzz Feed's McKay Coppins notes that Ann Romney "has become an unquestionable campaign star: a dynamic speaker, graceful mommy warrior, and ceaselessly sympathetic figure whom the campaign is counting on to sell her husband's presidential candidacy to women voters. Her persona today is so far distant from the caricature that emerged in 1994 that it's easy to forget that her political poise was hard-earned. But her evolution as a political spouse has been a rocky one, a range of people close to the three past Romney campaigns said - a journey marked at its start by high-profile fumbles, ruined friendships, and an escalating "disdain" for the press. "Whatever skills she has as a campaigner have developed over time, but the bottom line is she's a mom, not a political person," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior campaign adviser who's worked with the Romneys for the past decade. "She's devoted to her husband and family." http://bit.ly/I3RGso
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-DEMOCRATS PRE-BUT ROMNEY'S NEW HAMPSHIRE TRIP. Mitt Romney will be spending primary night in New Hampshire tomorrow night, and the state Democratic Party says Romney "will be forced answer up for his assertion in Conway in January that higher education costs will work themselves out in the free market and for his position that struggling students should 'shop around,' as well as his support for the Romney-Ryan budget that allows college student loan interest rates to double while gutting critical programs to help Granite Staters afford a college education. … Across New Hampshire this week, OFA-NH will host grassroots events about college affordability, including events during a College Day of Action at the Granite State's largest colleges and universities - discussing the President's commitment to making college more affordable and contrasting that with Romney's failed education policies."
-CAN REPUBLICANS BRIDGE THE LATINO GAP? "For the Republican Party's future, there is no greater strategic imperative than improving its performance with Hispanic voters for this election and for the foreseeable future," GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak writes in an Austin-American Statesman Op-Ed. "Can Republicans win Hispanics in 2012? They have no choice but to try - and they are. There is some room for hope. A recent poll of 500 Hispanic likely voters conducted by the Tarrance Group, a Republican-leaning firm, for the Libre Initiative, found that while President Barack Obama leads a generic Republican poll 61-31, on the key issues Obama's support among Hispanics is weak." http://bit.ly/I3Mk1d
-DEMOCRATS LAUNCH WISCONSIN AIR WAR. The Democratic Governor's Association announced this morning it is spending $500,000 to help the group, Greater Wisconsin, air an ad highlighting what they say is "Scott Walker's worst in the nation job record." Walker is facing a recall fight this spring. According to Greater Wisconsin, "The effort is the first major paid anti-Walker media campaign of this year after months and millions of dollars of pro-Walker advertising funded by his extremist ideological supporters like the Koch brothers and the Swift Boaters." WATCH: http://bit.ly/J4vUPw
-THE DOG FIGHT CONTINUES. The group, Dogs Against Romney, has "sniffed up some incredible new info about Romney and Crategate. Turns out, Romney's mistreatment of Seamus landed him on two national animal cruelty registries used to track animal abuse offenders," according to a press release. Dogs Against Romney released a new video today raising the question: "Should we have a guy as President who isn't even qualified to adopt a pet?" WATCH: http://youtu.be/wxiR75pWe5c
-COMING ATTRACTIONS: From the Obama campaign: "On Thursday, April 26, Vice President Joe Biden will deliver remarks at New York University in New York City on the President's commitment to keeping Americans safe and our nation secure. In his speech, the Vice President will describe how, under President Obama's leadership, we have successfully confronted our enemies and strengthened our alliances to effectively meet the challenges we face overseas." -ABC's Devin Dwyer
@steveholland1 : Former PA Gov Tom Ridge is sick and will not be attending campaign rally this morning with Romney, aide says
- Mitt Romney is in Pennsylvania where he will hold a campaign event in South Park Township. Later in the afternoon, he will be joined by Sen. Marco Rubio for a town hall in Aston, Pa. His wife, Ann Romney, will address a GOP dinner in Stamford, Connecticut tonight.
- Newt Gingrich will attend a GOP regional meeting in Wilmington, Delaware.
- Ron Paul will be a guest on CNBC's Squawk Box.
ABC's Joanna Suarez
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