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Front-runner Romney still has long road to nomination

By Jonathan Mann, CNN
updated 6:21 AM EST, Wed March 7, 2012
  • Mitt Romney firms up front-runner status with wins in six of 10 contests on Super Tuesday
  • Romney supporters spent four times as much on television ads as all other rivals combined
  • Romney still failing to connect with evangelical Christians and working class

(CNN) -- As a young man, Mitt Romney was sent to France as a missionary to find converts for America's Mormon Church, which prohibits coffee, tobacco and alcohol. Obviously he's no stranger to challenges.

Now the former venture capitalist and Massachusetts state governor is working on another ambitious effort, pursuing the U.S. presidency. By one estimate he has spent more than 40 million dollars of his own money, and more than 200 million dollars in all.

He first tried in 2008 and got as far as the day known as Super Tuesday, which is a traditional turning point in the race. After America's political parties hold months of state-by-state primary elections to choose a presidential candidate, Super Tuesday bundles a handful of state races together. The Republicans held 21 of them in that single day four years ago. Romney did poorly and dropped out.

Now he's making another presidential bid. Super Tuesday 2012 was smaller and it had a different outcome. Romney won six of the 10 Super Tuesday primaries held yesterday. His closest competitor, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, won three.

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Romney has long been considered the front-runner among Republican candidates because of the quality of his campaign, which is well-organized and particularly well-funded. In the days leading up to Super Tuesday, his supporters spent four times as much on television ads as supporters of all the other candidates combined.

Romney is widely considered the likely Republican nominee to face Barack Obama in presidential election in November. But even he knows he has a long way to go.

"'We've taken one more step toward restoring the promise of America," he told supporters Tuesday night. "Tomorrow we wake up and we start again. And the next day we do the same. And so it will go, day by day, step by step, door to door, heart to heart."

It's a telling phrase. The hearts of Republican Party voters haven't been behind him. Despite support from Republicans on Wall Street and many leading party figures, pollsters and party insiders suggest Romney hasn't attracted passionate or widespread support from many ordinary Republicans.

Romney isn't just a Harvard-educated millionaire, he is seen as a political moderate. He struggles to connect with Republicans of conservative instincts or modest means. Evangelical Christians are an influential element of the Republican Party and many do not consider the Mormons, an American-born denomination known officially as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a "Christian" church. That suspicion hasn't been a decisive handicap but it's been no asset either.

In order to win the Republican nomination for president, a candidate has to have the support of at least 1,144 delegates at the party's national convention in August. According to CNN's unofficial and incomplete estimate after Super Tuesday (which excluded late results from Alaska), Romney had 396 delegates. Santorum was next with 158, followed by former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich with 103 and Representative Ron Paul with 60.There are months of primaries ahead and unlike Super Tuesday four years ago, the contests yesterday didn't push any candidate far ahead of the pack or force anyone out.

This year's Republican nomination contest has already proven costlier, nastier and more divisive than many party members would have hoped. Romney is winning but he isn't winning fast. And his competitors are convinced that he can still be stopped.

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