Mitt Romney's campaign team claimed yesterday that election wins in six out of 10 US states on "Super Tuesday" mean none of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination can beat him.
But the propaganda blast, made in memos, briefings to reporters and TV appearances, was countered by hand-wringing from the conservative wing of the party. Critics asked why Mr Romney did not perform more convincingly, losing three states to Rick Santorum and one to Newt Gingrich.
It was Mr Romney's narrow win in the key state of Ohio that sparked the most debate. While a loss there would been far more serious, the fact that he found himself eking out a 1 per cent poll margin over Mr Santorum after outspending him by at least four-to-one raised familiar questions about his candidacy. Why does he seem unable to seal the deal? Where was the knockout punch?
"He may have the math[s] but he has lost the momentum," said Robert Zimmerman, of the opposition Democratic Party's national committee.
Dan Schnur, a Republican, said: "The good news for Romney is that he is still the front-runner. The bad news is that the doubts about his candidacy are only going to grow stronger."
If there was urgency in Camp Romney's messages it was also because the next stretch looks rocky. Caucus voting in Kansas on Saturday, followed by contests in Alabama and Mississippi next week, offer fresh openings for Mr Santorum, who is calling himself the only viable alternative to Mr Romney. Illinois, voting on 20 March, is also a state where Mr Romney might trip up.
Mr Romney, pictured, now leads the field with 415 delegates committed to backing him at the national Republican convention in August. A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to win the party's nomination and go on to challenge Barack Obama in November's election. Mr Santorum has 176 delegates, Newt Gingrich has 105 and Ron Paul has 47.
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