Rick Santorum ended his presidential campaign Tuesday, leaving former Massachussetts governor as the de facto nominee to lead the Republicans against President Barack Obama this November.
Yes, Newt?Gingrich and Ron Paul are still in the race, but they are all but mathematically eliminated.
It will be Romney. Santorum pulled out of the race, bowing to the inevitable in view of the recent illness of his young daughter. That is where he needs to be right now.
Santorum may not have succeeded in gaining the Republican nomination, but he succeeded in shaping the debate. He offered a purer conservative option to the pure conservatives in the party, and forced Romney to declare his adherence to conservative principles. Even as Romney shifts into the running-against-Obama mode it will be hard for him to "shake the Etch A Sketch" now.
Romney still faces a challenge - to win the hearts and minds of his party and convince them that he is more than just the last candidate standing, a winner by default. He will be trying to generate a real enthusiasm from those who still view him with suspicion.
We'll see how it goes.