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PITTSBURGH — With five more states and his party's presidential nomination firmly in hand Tuesday night, Mitt Romney renewed his assault on President Obama and his handling of the nation's finances.
"It's still about the economy, and we're not stupid," the GOP nominee-to-be said, echoing James Carville's oft-quoted line about the 1992 presidential election as he offered a gallery of bleak financial images from the last three years.
Mr. Romney spoke as the polls closed on five more of the primaries and caucuses that have propelled him to a commanding lead in the nomination competition.
"I can say with confidence and gratitude that you have given me a great honor ad solemn responsibility. And together we will win on Nov. 6th," he said.
The sweep had been all but certain since Mr. Romney's last real opposition, former Sen. Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania, dropped from the race two weeks before his former constituents got a chance to vote.
Mr. Romney still faces token opposition from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, but neither had any credible hope of blocking his march to the 1,144 delegates needed to officially secure the GOP standard.
And shortly after the polls closed, it was apparent, as expected, that Mr. Romney would sweep Pennsylvania and the four other primaries — New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Delaware — that represented the latest anti-climactic step in the GOP nomination calendar.
Mr. Romney won at least 95 delegates when he won all the primaries.
A total of 209 delegates were at stake, though the status of Pennsylvania's 59 delegates probably won't be known for several days because delegates were elected directly on the ballot, and they were not identified by which candidate they support.
Mr. Romney had a total of 793 delegates — just 351 shy of the 1,144 delegates it will take to win the Republican nomination to run against President Obama in November. With Mr. Santorum out of the race, Mr. Romney could collect the needed delegates by the end of May.
The other two Republican candidates still in the race, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul, were far behind. Mr. Gingrich had 137 delegates and Mr. Paul had 79.
Mr. Romney spoke in Manchester, N.H., the state where he owns a vacation home and where he formally launched his second bid for the White House nearly a year ago.
"For every single mom who feels heartbroken when she has to explain to her kids that she needs to take a second job," Mr. Romney said, "… for every grandparent who can't afford the gas to visit his or her grandchildren … for the mom and dad who never thought they'd be on food stamps … for the small business owner desperately cutting back just to keep the doors open one more month — to all of the thousands of good and decent Americans I've met who want nothing more than a better chance, a fighting chance, to all of you, I have a simple message: Hold on a little longer. A better America begins tonight."
Mr. Romney had commanding leads in all five states. In Pennsylvania, with nearly all the votes tabulated, he led in all 67 counties.
Six months before the election, opinion polls show the economy to be the top issue by far in the race. The same surveys point toward a close contest, with several suggesting a modest advantage for the incumbent.
Mr. Obama won the presidency in 2008 in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and since then economic growth has rebounded slowly and joblessness has receded gradually, although housing prices continue to drop in many areas of the country.
In an indication that Mr. Romney was treating the moment Tuesday night as something of an opening of the general election campaign, his speech seemed aimed at the millions of voters — nonconservatives and others — who have yet to pay close attention to the race for the White House.
He blended biographical details, an attack on Mr. Obama, and the promise of a better future, leaving behind his struggle to reassure conservative voters who have been reluctant to swing behind his candidacy.
Reluctantly liberated from the campaign trail, Mr. Santorum and his wife, Karen, spent election night in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, whose show had become a favored outlet for the Santorums through the campaign.
Mr. Santorum resisted making a formal endorsements of his rival, but has made clear in the past that he would end up supporting the now-certain nominee.
Since his landslide loss to Mr. Romney in Florida in late January, Mr. Gingrich had been an increasingly irrelevant factor in the overall GOP race, but he hoped to gain a measure of solace Tuesday night concentrating on Delaware. But the major television networks were able to call the result in the First State, another lopsided win for Mr. Romney, shortly after the polls closed.
Determined to make up for lost time, Mr. Romney has recently accelerated his fund-raising, announced the beginning of a process to search for a vice presidential running mate, and begun reaping endorsements from party officials who declined to do so in the heat of the primary campaign.
Mr. Santorum offered no endorsement in his televised appearance during the evening but said he expected to meet with Mr. Romney in the future, adding he would sit down with the former governor's aides today.
While Mr. Gingrich's campaign had sent mixed signals about how long he was likely to hang on as a candidate, he said after his concession speech that he remained a candidate and would campaign in North Carolina in the next few days.
Mr. Paul, who campaigned in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia over the last week, has vowed to take his iconoclastic campaign all the way to the convention in Tampa.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O'Toole is politics editor at the Post-Gazette. Information from The Blade's news services was used in this report.
Contact James O'Toole at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 412-263-1562.