(Madison, WI) -- Forty-two delegates are up for grabs when
While polls suggest that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt
Romney is the overwhelming favorite in
"I think that because
Another strategist sees higher stakes than bragging rights.
"In a race where none of the 'must-wins' have actually turned out to be 'must-wins,' Wisconsin looks to be as close as Republicans have been to functionally wrapping up the nominating contest," said GOP strategist Gentry Collins, a former political director for the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association.
Romney has 571 delegates, according to CNN's estimate. That's more than twice the 264 delegates Santorum holds, but only about halfway toward securing the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
"I've got a ways to go before I've got 1,144 delegates, so I'm not counting the delegates before they hatch. But I'm going to keep working very hard, and hope I get a good, strong sendoff from Wisconsin," Romney said Saturday in Fitchburg, Wisconsin.
"I've got a good boost from the folks in
Since Romney's double-digit victory in Illinois two weeks ago -- followed by a wave of some of the party's major names and elder statesmen endorsing him and urging a quick conclusion to the divisive nomination battle -- the conversation seems to have changed: the front-runner increasingly being called the inevitable nominee.
At an event in
Romney also has increasingly focused his rhetoric at President Barack Obama to portray the campaign in terms of November's general election rather than the ongoing nominating process.
"The president is consumed with trying to find someone to blame for an extraordinarily failed presidency," Romney said Tuesday on "Fox and Friends," particularly targeting Obama's economic policies. "This has been the slowest recovery we've ever had in American history."
Santorum seems to be downplaying expectations, saying in an interview Monday on "Piers Morgan Tonight" that he knew that "April would be a very tough month."
But regardless of the increasingly daunting odds facing him, Santorum doesn't sound like a candidate about to end his White House bid.
While Romney is far ahead of Santorum,
former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of
And that continues to fuel Santorum's campaign, in which he continually depicts himself as the lone true conservative going up against the Republican establishment and liberal media bias.
"The reason I'm here is because what the establishment
is trying to shove down the throats of the folks of this country on the
Republican ticket isn't being swallowed. And the reason it's not being
swallowed is because they want someone who reflects their values, someone that
they can trust, someone who's an authentic conservative," Santorum told
voters Sunday in
While Romney appears to be more in general-election mode,
targeting his firepower at Obama rather than his GOP rivals, he was not leaving
anything to chance in
He campaigned in the state over the three days leading up to Tuesday's primary, and his campaign, combined with an independent pro-Romney super PAC, will outspend Santorum and his super PAC by a nearly 4-1 ratio to run TV ads in Wisconsin.
That led Santorum to ask Sunday in
Santorum has some help on the ground in the
"Santorum's very capable deputy campaign manager, Jill
Latham, ran the Republican Party's turnout programs in Wisconsin through the
2006 cycle and knows the state well. She will be a big tactical asset in
A Santorum win in
"If Romney clean-sweeps Tuesday night, it's very hard to see a path for Santorum," CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley said.
After Tuesday, there are three weeks before five more states vote on April 24.
Romney appears to be the favorite in four of those states:
"Do you want to lose your home state? I don't think so.
I think if Santorum wants any kind of future, how do you stay in and lose
Collins agrees, adding, "If it looks like Romney has the nomination locked up before then, Santorum will need to be careful to avoid a serious embarrassment in his own home state."
Santorum and his campaign say there's no talk of dropping
out until Romney clinches the nomination.
"The minute you show any leg on getting out, your
supporters are going to vote for Romney. So you're kind of stuck,"
Santorum points toward May, which looks friendlier for him.
He could be the favorite in primaries in
"May is rich with delegates and strong states for us. By the end of May, we expect this race to be very close to even," Santorum told Morgan.
But it could be too little, too late by May. Sen. Hillary Clinton won most of the final contests against Sen. Barack Obama in the marathon 2008 Democratic presidential nomination battle. But in the end, it didn't matter.