WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney was hoping for a five-state primary sweep Tuesday to cement his status as the all-but-certain Republican nominee, as he trains his sights on ousting President Barack Obama from the White House.
Shortly before polls closed in the northeastern states of Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island -- largely friendly territory for Romney -- he made clear that he was the flagbearer for the party.
"After 43 primaries and caucuses, many long days and not a few long nights, I can say with confidence -- and gratitude -- that you have given me a great honor and solemn responsibility," Romney said in excerpts of his celebration speech obtained by AFP before he addresses supporters.
"Together, we will win on November 6th!"
Romney scheduled his victory speech in New Hampshire, a battleground state where he won his first primary victory in January.
Even after the votes are counted and delegates allocated, Romney will still be short of the 1,144 delegates needed to be crowned the official nominee at the Republican convention in late August.
But he quickly sought to assure struggling Americans -- "the thousands of good and decent Americans I've met who want nothing more than a better chance" -- that he was the candidate ready to fight for an improving economy.
"To all of you, I have a simple message: hold on a little longer," he will say, according to his campaign. "A better America begins tonight."
The speech revolves around a common theme that Republicans have crafted about Obama: that the Democratic president has failed to turn the country around.
"Four years ago, Barack Obama dazzled us in front of Greek columns with sweeping promises of hope and change," according to Romney.
"But after we came down to earth, after the celebration and parades, what do we have to show for three and a half years of President Obama?
"Is it easier to make ends meet? Is it easier to sell your home or buy a new one? Have you saved what you needed for retirement? Are you making more in your job? Do you have a better chance to get a better job? Do you pay less at the pump?"
Romney has 683 delegates, compared with 141 for former House speaker Newt Gingrich and 84 for congressman Ron Paul, according to a tally by RealClearPolitics.com.
Rick Santorum has 267 delegates but he bowed out of the race two weeks ago.
Gingrich, who is under pressure from the Republican establishment to drop out, has campaigned relatively heavily in the small state of Delaware, where he has earned some recent endorsements by state politicians.
But the state has just 17 delegates at stake -- compared to 95 for New York and 72 for Pennsylvania -- and a possible Delaware victory is not being seen as a gamechanger for Gingrich.
Should Gingrich do poorly in Delaware he will "reassess with supporters" but will not immediately suspend his campaign, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told Yahoo News.
And if Gingrich wins the state?
"A win in Delaware builds financial and grassroots momentum going into North Carolina," Hammond said.
"Then into a battle royal in Texas and California."