Democrats have raised questions about Romney's distance from the issues confronting many Americans, citing as one example his $12 million renovation of a San Diego beach home that includes an elevator for his cars.
Vice President Joe Biden said on CBS "Face the Nation" yesterday the former Massachusetts governor "seems not to understand" the struggles of middle-class Americans. "Governor Romney's a little out of touch," he said.
Swing states poll
Obama holds a 51 percent to 42 percent lead over Romney in a dozen states expected to be the closest in the November general election, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll published Monday. It also found Romney has lost support among women during the primaries, giving Obama an 18-percentage-point advantage among female voters combined in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Romney, who helped form the private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC in Boston, has estimated his wealth to be as much as $250 million on financial disclosure statements. He earned $21.6 million in 2010, mostly from investments, according to tax returns he released in late January.
To counter the notion that he is removed from average Americans, Romney has started talking more about the struggles of those he has met on the campaign trail. He also has taken to defending his personal wealth on the stump, charging Democrats with creating a society that "attacks success."
At his side much of yesterday was U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has endorsed Romney and is often mentioned in media reports as a possible running mate.
"This man understands where we are. This man is a decent man," Ryan said in Middleton, adding that Romney was born in another Midwestern state Michigan not in Massachusetts.
Romney's next test comes Tuesday in a trio of primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C. His main challenger, Rick Santorum, is seeking to regain momentum as party leaders push to bring a swift conclusion to the nominating contest.
Santorum sought to counter Romney's message in appearances amid northern Wisconsin's dairy farms. He boasted of his support from working-class voters, those without college educations or earning less than $100,000, and rural Republicans.
"We're going to do well in the rural counties of this state," Santorum said yesterday. "The question is: are those areas going to show up in big numbers? Are they going to overwhelm the cities?"
Plea for turnout
Speaking today in rural Shawano, Santorum begged those voters to head to the polls Tuesday.
"When people, conservatives get excited, particularly the rural areas, and turn out to vote, you can win," he told several dozen voters. "Get that turnout up and conservatives can get excited, so I'm asking you over the next 24 hours to join me."
Santorum, 53, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, vowed Sunday to remain in the race even if he loses all three of Tuesday's contests.
"We aren't even in halftime, folks," he said in Mishicot, Wisconsin. "Not even half the delegates have been selected in this race."
Even so, Santorum's campaign shows signs of retreat. After spending days campaigning across Wisconsin, he plans to appear on election night in his home state of Pennsylvania. Among his challenges will be keeping his campaign alive through April.
"The map looks a lot better for us in May," he said Monday. "We can nominate a conservative out of that convention."
Romney delegate lead
After Tuesday's voting, the next contests will be on April 24 in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Delaware, states expected to favor Romney, and in Pennsylvania, which Santorum represented in both the U.S. House and Senate.
With about half of the Republican nominating contests complete, Romney has 568 of the 1,144 delegates needed to capture the nomination at the party's convention in August, according to an Associated Press tally. Santorum has 273 delegates and would need to win about three-quarters of those remaining to become the party's nominee.
In a NBC News/Marist poll released Friday, Romney led Santorum in Wisconsin, 40 percent to 33 percent. The telephone survey of 740 likely Republican primary voters was conducted March 26-27 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
The Wisconsin primary is not "do or die," Santorum said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "We have to win Pennsylvania."
Others in the party are pressing for an end to the nomination fight so the nominee can begin focusing on Obama.
"The chances are overwhelming that he will be our nominee," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said of Romney in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday. "We're in the final phase of wrapping up this nomination."
Romney, 65, has accelerated efforts to win the support of Republican officials across the party. He won the endorsement yesterday of freshman U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
That endorsement, along with the backing of other anti-tax Tea Party favorites such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, demonstrates that Romney is broadening his support beyond the establishment party figures, including former President George H.W. Bush, who have sustained him.
"I just want to reassure every conservative: I've spoken to Mitt, I totally believe he is committed to saving America," Johnson told voters yesterday at a pancake breakfast in Milwaukee.