2012 Presidential Election: The End Of The Beginning (The Note)

(Image Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - Not only did Mitt Romney not bother to congratulate his fellow Republican opponents on hard-fought primaries last night, he hasn't mentioned them on the campaign trail for days.

In fact, listening to Romney on the stump in Wisconsin this week, you'd hardly even know he has any Republican opponents. And after Romney's win over Rick Santorum in Wisconsin, 42 percent to 37 percent, as well as victories in Maryland and the District of Columbia, the former Massachusetts governor did more than he has on any other primary night to vanquish his opponents.

Santorum, who kicks off a three-city tour of Pennsylvania today, can keep bowling for votes. He can call last night "halftime" as he did in a speech in Mars, Pa. and vow to plow ahead. He can even win the Pennsylvania primary on April 24. But, it won't matter.

Romney didn't simply get more votes than Santorum did in the Badger State, he won over the kinds of voters who have been skeptical of his candidacy for much of the primary season: very conservative Republicans, middle income earners, strong Tea Party supporters and non-college graduates.

To be sure, Romney didn't exactly carry these groups by a wide margin - he won those making less than $100,00 per year by just one point and very conservatives by just three points.

But, it's a dramatic turn-around from where Romney stood with these voters back on Super Tuesday on March 6.

On that March day in Ohio, a state with a similar demographic make-up to Wisconsin, Romney lost very conservative voters by a whopping 18 points. He lost those who made less than $100,000 per year by 8 points.

Romney carried those who defined themselves as "strong" supporters of the Tea Party by 15 points in Wisconsin. He lost them by 9 points in Ohio.

When 83 percent of the Wisconsin electorate says they expect Romney to be the nominee, it's clear that voters not only see the light at the end of the long tunnel that has been the GOP primary, but they want the party to get there - now.

Traveling around the state over the past few days, we found lots of Republican voters who more than ready to see the primary contest come to an end.

"The sooner we can get on to focusing on the real issues and bringing those to the American public as opposed to just constant back and forth fighting will be beneficial for the long term," said Ed Butte of Pewaukee, Wis., an undecided voter who stopped by a Sunday morning pancake breakfast to listen to Romney. "Things are starting to align, so let's make a decision, let's move forward and get on with it."

Looks like that voter's wish is coming true.

Read more of ABC News Political Director Amy Walter's analysis of last night's results: http://abcn.ws/HnGnVy


INSIDE THE EXIT POLLS: HOW ROMNEY WON. ABC pollster Gary Langer reports: Mitt Romney again relied on well-off voters for a Midwest victory, leaning in Wisconsin on support from those with $100,000-plus incomes while running only about evenly against Rick Santorum among those less comfortable financially. Romney ran especially strongly among the majorities focused chiefly on electability and experience, his usual strong suits. And he benefitted from a broad sense of inevitability: Whatever their preference, 80 percent in Wisconsin said they expected him to become their party's eventual nominee. Fewer, but 65 percent, also said they'd be satisfied with that outcome. http://abcn.ws/HGYbS7

Maryland was writ larger for Romney. He won 74 percent of the voters who said beating Barack Obama was the key attribute, and 66 of those focused chiefly on experience, the latter 11 points better than his tally in this voter group in Wisconsin. He won resoundingly among somewhat conservative and moderate voters, while splitting very conservatives with Santorum. And while Romney won $100,000-plus voters by 29 points, he also won less well-off Maryland voters by 20 points, a feat he failed to replicate with his less broadly based victory in Wisconsin.


WHY WISCONSIN IS KEY IN 2012. The most important political event between now and the presidential election could be a hotly contested recall effort against the Republican Gov. Scott Walker, ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield explains. Wisconsin is likely to be an important swing state for the Republican party in the general election even though it has gone blue in the past several presidential elections; Gore carried it in 2000, Kerry in 2004, and most recently Obama won the Badger state in 2008 with 56% of the vote, as compared to McCain's 42%. Still, the state is not a Democratic stronghold by any means. In fact, the state is, in many ways, a model for the shift in the political direction of the country since Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, and then the White House in 2008. It's a shift Republicans would very much like to see continue- first with a positive outcome in June when the state will hold a recall election for their Republican Governor, Walker, and again in the general election in November. http://abcn.ws/HZMpNi

NOTED: A GOP source passes along turnout numbers from last night's primary in Wisconsin. More than 719,000 voters went to the polls yesterday, far more than in 2008 when just over 410,000 showed up. Yesterday's turnout didn't surpass the 1980 record of 907,854, but Republicans are confident in Wisconsin heading into the June recall and the November general election.


THE DELEGATE MATH brought to you by ABC's Chris Good

Mitt Romney passed the halfway point on Tuesday in the GOP delegate race, leaving an even steeper climb for Rick Santorum. To reach 1,144 delegates and win the nomination, Romney now must win 42 percent of all outstanding delegates in the ABC News estimate, while Santorum must win 74 percent.

Romney entered Tuesday just shy of the 572-delegate mark. He added 80 to his total in Tuesday's primaries, plus a few more as finalized results in other states moved more delegates into his column. The current ABC News delegate estimate:

Romney: 655

Santorum: 278

Gingrich: 135

Paul: 51

VIDEO OF THE DAY: ABC'S VEEPSTAKES WATCH. The "Top Line" team of Amy Walter, Rick Klein and David Chalian parse the "denials" of Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and others on the Republican vice presidential short list. WATCH: http://yhoo.it/H8dqiH



ROMNEY PEGS OBAMA AS OUT OF TOUCH. Mitt Romney took to the stage last nght to deliver a pounding critique of President Obama, painting the president as "out of touch," ABC's Emily Friedman reports from Milwaukee. "It's enough to make you think that years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of True Believers telling you that you're great and you're doing a great job, it's enough to make you think that you might become a little out of touch with that, and that's what's happened," Romney said of the president. "This campaign is going to deal with many complicated issues but there's a basic choice we're going to face," Romney said in the ballroom of an event space known as the Grain Exchange. "The president has pledged to transform America and he spent the last four years laying the groundwork for a government-centered society. I will spend the next four years rebuilding the foundation of an opportunity society led by free people and free enterprise." Romney looked ahead to the next set of primaries, the April 24 contests in five states in the Northeast. "Tonight, I'm asking the good people of Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut to join me," he said. "Join me in the next step toward that destination of Nov. 6, when across America we can give a sigh of relief and know that the promise of America has been kept." http://abcn.ws/HfD8CW

SANTORUM SHAKES OFF TRIPLE DEFEATS. Hundreds of miles away from his defeat in Wisconsin, Rick Santorum rallied a crowd in his home state telling them he came to "kick off the second half" in southwestern Pennsylvania, ABC's Arlette Saenz notes. "We have now reached the point where its half time. Half the delegates in this process have been selected. And who is ready to charge down the field of Pennsylvania for a strong second half?" Santorum asked the crowd gathered in a ballroom at the Four Points Sheraton here. "Pennsylvania and half the other people in this country have yet to be heard and we're going to go out and campaign here and across this nation to make sure their voices are heard," Santorum later added. Earlier in the week, Santorum admitted for the first time that Pennsylvania's primary on April 24th is a must-win for his campaign. Over the next three weeks, Santorum plans to campaign heavily in the state, which Santorum said gained the nickname the "Keystone State" for a reason. "We're the place upon which our country was built and great things continue to happen here," Santorum said. Santorum stressed the need to nominate a candidate who can present a contrast to Obama, saying "If we're going to win this race we can't have little differences between our nominee and president Obama. We have to have clear contrasting colors." http://abcn.ws/HRbZYi

OBAMA'S BLISTERING ATTACK ON THE GOP. ABC's Jake Tapper reports that President Obama delivered a blistering attack on the House Republican budget, GOP presidential candidates, and the very soul of the modern Republican party Tuesday, at one point saying that since President Ronald Reagan raised taxes and increases spending to reduce the deficit, the 40th president and conservative icon "could not get through a Republican primary today." The president called the budget proposal primarily crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., the chair of the Budget Committee, "a Trojan horse," and "thinly veiled social Darwinism," painting an apocalyptic vision of what it might mean to the public if enacted. Addressing a convention of the Associated Press, the president said the Ryan budget is "disguised as deficit reduction plans" but "really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. "It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who's willing to work for it," he said, speaking sternly, "a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that's built to last - education and training, research and development, our infrastructure - it is a prescription for decline." http://abcn.ws/HGg4AB

PAUL RYAN RESPONDS: OBAMA IS 'MORE PARTISAN AND DESPERATE BY THE DAY' The state's most controversial congressman, Rep. Paul Ryan, ripped President Obama's criticism of his budget proposal and praised Mitt Romney - a man he endorsed last week - for "relishing" the debate over how to solve the nation's fiscal mess. Yesterday Obama called Ryan's budget proposal "thinly veiled social Darwinism," saying it was "disguised as deficit reduction plans" but "really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country." That was a charge denounced by Ryan in a phone interview with ABC News' Matthew Jaffe last night. "Desperate and demagogic is how I would describe his speech in two words," Ryan said. "Unfortunately we've become accustomed to this kind of rhetoric from the president. I feel like it's Groundhog Day, except it's April. He essentially said the same thing last year. "His speeches are becoming more partisan and desperate by the day and his attempts to divide the nation and to distract people from his own failure to lead - I just don't think are going to work," he continued. "I think people are smarter than that. "The president's attacks on our budget are as disappointing, as revealing as his attacks on the Supreme Court," Ryan said. "It seems that he takes anyone questioning his vision of limitless government as a personal affront and he's lashing out. That's hardly the kind of leadership we were expecting when he ran for office." http://abcn.ws/HcCDY8

NOTABLE: RYAN'S VEEPSTAKES RISKS AND REWARDS. As he stumped across his home-state of Wisconsin with Mitt Romney this past week, Rep. Paul Ryan looked the part of a Vice President. Comfortable and confident as Romney's wing-man, the young Congressman warmed up the crowds before Romney speeches, penned an email fundraising appeal, and even participated in a staff-organized April Fool's prank on the Massachusetts Governor. Even so, a Ryan pick has as many risks as it does potential rewards, ABC's Amy Walter observes. Read her rundown: http://abcn.ws/HaTsHw

DEMOCRATIC COUNTER-PROGRAMMING. Democratic super PACs American Bridge and Priorities USA Action have produced a video responding to all of the Romney-Ryan hype this week. Their message: "Paul Ryan's budget plan would cause the gradual demise of the Medicare system and cost 1 million students their Pell grants. Mitt Romney thinks it's 'marvelous'?" WATCH:  http://bit.ly/HfyK6c


@bdomenech : We are about to witness a fall campaign with more negative advertising than any in recorded history.

@politicalwire : Romney surrogate says gender gap will close once Romney's "real views" come out during the general election…  http://pwire.at/HTh02D

@nationaljournal : Obama and Romney previewed a negative, ideological campaign yesterday  http://njour.nl/HdzNSE

@ThePlumLineGS : Maureen Dowd smacks down all the fake outrage about Obama supposedly attacking the court: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/04/opinion/dowd-men-in-black.html?hp

@karentravers : Early  #FF for hardest working woman in news biz today-  @ABCcolleague  @AlvearDiana who's been up all night covering tornadoes in Dallas



by ABC's Chris Good

How Romney's Win Is Playing:

-The New York Times: "Romney Adds 3 Victories and Clashes With Obama … Exchange of Biting Comments on Economy Suggests New Stage of Campaign"  http://nyti.ms/HmvXWI

-The Washington Post: "Romney Bolsters His Case to GOP With Triple Win"  http://wapo.st/HI3ikZ

-The Wall Street Journal: "Romney Rolls Up Three Wins … Front-Runner Sweeps to Victory in Wisconsin, Maryland and District of Columbia"  http://on.wsj.com/HnYydB

-Pennsylvania: Santorum's Last Stand? After Romney's three wins on Tuesday, Rick Santorum's prospects are looking bleak, and the Allentown Morning Call writes that "Pennsylvania Republicans may not be able, or willing, to save him." Polls have reflected "stagnant" support for the former senator in his home state, the paper reports after Santorum delivered his election-night speech from his home state on Tuesday.  http://bit.ly/HZFH9Y

-Romney Hitting Santorum in Pennsylvania. The next GOP primaries take place on April 24, when Pennsylvania votes along with Romney-friendly states Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and Rhode Island. With Santorum's home state the most competitive among them, Romney and his allies are moving in aggressively. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports: "Already, TV ads and robocalls attacking Santorum for his record on spending issues in the Senate are flying in Pennsylvania, and there are sure to be more as the campaign goes for the knockout in the state Santorum represented in Congress. Already, Romney has scheduled a Wednesday evening campaign stop in Broomall, deep in the suburban Republican heart of Delaware County."  http://bit.ly/HJUUBz


-Mitt Romney will start the day with an address to the Newspaper Association of America in Washington, D.C. Later in the evening, he will hold a campaign event in Broomall, Pennsylvania.

-Rick Santorum will remain in Pennsylvania, with stops in Carnegie, Hollidaysburg and Mechanicsburg.

-Newt Gingrich will hold an event in Wilmington, North Carolina.

-Ron Paul will host a town hall meeting in Los Angeles, California.

-ABC's Joanna Suarez

 Check out The Note's Futures Calendar:  http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV


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