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Advantage In Hand, Romney Campaigns In Wis.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. And after months of upsets and indecisive results, there were signs this week that the battle for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination may be entering its final stages. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has a huge lead in delegates and some big endorsements seem to rolling in. Wisconsin has seen the majority of the action over the past few days. Voters go to the polls in a primary there on Tuesday. NPR's Don Gonyea has been on the campaign trail. He joins us this morning from Pewaukee, Wisconsin, which is kind of close to Milwaukee, isn't it?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Very close, but I think it deserves its own mention.

SIMON: Well, good to know you're in Pewaukee. Best to our friends there. And it's been a good week, save for being savaged by Stephen Colbert, it's been a good week for Mitt Romney, hasn't it?

GONYEA: Exactly. The polls here have him ahead - ahead by a healthy margin. And that's something he could not say a month ago. But he also got three important endorsements this week - one from Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a rising conservative star for Republicans; former President George H.W. Bush, the elder Bush, endorsed him. Probably most important though, he won the backing of Congressman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin native, chairman of the House Budget Committee, one of the new intellectual forces in the Republican Party. He was with Romney all day yesterday. This is from Appleton:

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: I'm excited, I'm encouraged, I'm enthused, because in this man we have a person of conviction, we have a man with the right kind of experience, we have the right kind of leader we're going to need to get this country right and to get this country back on track, and I want to ask you fellow Wisconsinites to join me in welcoming who I hope becomes the next president of the United States, Governor Mitt Romney.


GONYEA: All right, now, Scott, the way he says I'm enthused, it may not be the most exciting moment in the history of American presidential politics, but that's Paul Ryan, and this is a very meaningful endorsement. A lot of people want to put him on the ticket already here.

SIMON: But the idea growing that the final result is already known, how aggressive has the campaigning in Wisconsin been?

GONYEA: They are working it hard, even though they're competing with a gubernatorial recall election that's coming up in a couple of months, for voters' attention. Mitt Romney yesterday was in Appleton. He was in Fond du Lac, ended the day at a fish fry at the Serve American Hall in Milwaukee. He's got all kinds of negative ads up attacking Santorum. But when he's on the stump, it's all about President Obama. Give a listen to this from Appleton:

MITT ROMNEY: Two-point-eight million homes have been foreclosed on. New business startups are at the lowest level they've been in 30 years. Over 2,000 Chrysler and GM dealerships have been closed and 22 automobile manufacturing plants have been shut down.

GONYEA: Now, Romney did have one kind of awkward moment this week. He was on a conference call with Wisconsin voters. It was one of those tele-town halls. And he was telling a humorous anecdote about his dad. His dad, George Romney, the former Michigan governor, former automobile executive. And the story included the fact that in the '50s, George Romney closed a Michigan factory and moved the jobs to Wisconsin. And it was a very strange thing to hear something like that unsolicited as part of a charming family story. So, that kind of plays into what the critics say about Romney.

SIMON: And Rick Santorum?

GONYEA: Rick Santorum is getting frustrated - you can tell. He's hearing all the talk that the math tells the story and that it's time for the party to get behind Romney. Here's what he had to say about that in Chippewa Falls yesterday:

RICK SANTORUM: I know there's a lot of folks who are sort of coalescing, saying, well, it's time maybe for this primary to end. There's a survey taken just this week that said 61 percent of the people said, no, we're not ready for that yet. Well, Wisconsin can make it very clear we're not ready for that yet. They can make it crystal clear that you're not ready for that yet.


GONYEA: But here's the deal for Santorum: he does know that he needs to win here in Wisconsin to stay alive and to get him to the next big one, which is still a few weeks away - Pennsylvania, his home state.·

SIMON: Newt Gingrich has essentially turned off the lights?

GONYEA: Essentially. He's not officially out. He's been here this week, but he's focusing it all on the convention, hoping to win a contested convention, which of course requires them to stop Mitt Romney from getting the required delegates first. Now, Gingrich getting out would be good news for Santorum, except it probably comes about three weeks too late.

SIMON: Don Gonyea in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Thanks so much.

GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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