It seems like a million years ago now, but this Tuesday's primary in Pennsylvania was to have been the ultimate showdown between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Had Santorum been able to win his home state, his campaign said, he would then ride that victory to a string of wins in May, leading to a possibly contested convention in the summer. But none of that happened; out of money after losses in Illinois and Wisconsin, Santorum withdrew from the race April 10.
Santorum's decision left Romney the widely-proclaimed "presumptive nominee." But there was never any victory event at which Romney could assume the title himself. Now, Romney plans to do so.
Even though this Tuesday's primaries are in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island, Romney will hold an election-night victory party in…Manchester, New Hampshire. Why New Hampshire, when Pennsylvania is not only a big prize in terms of delegates but one of the perhaps three most important swing states in the general election?
Because to the campaign, New Hampshire is the logical place for Romney to declare victory in the long primary season. "Gov. Romney kicked off his 2012 presidential campaign in New Hampshire," says a member of the Romney team. "Tuesday will mark the semi-official end of the primary campaign and Romney will become the presumptive nominee. The campaign will come full circle in New Hampshire."
Romney has titled the New Hampshire evening, "A Better America Begins Tonight."
The event follows a speech to Republican party officials in Phoenix Friday in which Romney took time to recognize -- in a summing-up sort of way -- his rivals from the campaign. "Let me also commend the people who had the courage to run for president on our side of the aisle this year," Romney said. "Some still running, some have gotten out of the race…Michele Bachmann, and Tim Pawlenty, and Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain, and Rick Perry, and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Each is going to provide a vital role in making sure that we win in November. Thank you, this extraordinary team. We have all fought hard and well and we’re going to fight for the things we believe in."
So Tuesday night marks a milestone for Romney. While aides point out that New Hampshire is also an important state for the general election, it seems clear that the Granite State, next door to Romney's adopted home of Massachusetts and the site of Romney's first victory this year, has great meaning for Romney as he prepares to claim a long-sought victory.