Time to stop dropping the presumptive and the likely qualifiers: It is all but certain that after Texans finish voting in Tuesday's Republican presidential primary, Mitt Romney will have secured the 1,144 delegates he needs to win the nomination.
Even as first Newt Gingrich and then Rick Santorum rose to challenge Romney, winning a total of 13 statewide votes between them, the Romney campaign focused on its steadily rising delegate count. Amid persistent questions about Romney's inability to squelch Santorum's resurgent campaign -- particularly after failing to deliver a knockout blow on Super Tuesday -- Romney was able to point to a substantial and growing advantage in delegates to the party's summer convention in Tampa Bay, Fla.
The Associated Press tally gives Romney 1,086 delegates, a number that includes party leaders called super delegates who are not constrained by state primaries but have already said they will back Romney. There are 155 delegates at stake in Texas, more than enough to give Romney the 58 he needs to push him past the 1,144 mark.
Despite concerns about past stances that colored him a moderate -- most notably the fact that while serving as governor of Massachusetts he signed a universal health care law that provided the model for President Obama's health care overhaul -- the press anointed Romney the front-runner from the beginning. He enjoyed a consistent, if less-than-enthusiastic, level of support as rivals, from Rick Perry to Herman Cain, flared brightly and fizzled quickly.
His first real threat came from Gingrich, whose meteoric climb in the polls culminated in a decisive victory in the South Carolina primary. But Gingrich faced questions about his record, from his ignominious exit from Congress to his consulting work on behalf of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and his vicious attacks on Romney appeared to backfire. Romney's campaign and its allied Super PAC responded, bombarding Gingrich with negative advertisements, and the former Speaker of the House's only other primary win was his home state of Georgia.
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, one of the least likely choices to outlast the field and emerge as the final alternative to Romney, lasted longer. His red-meat appeal to Tea Party voters and social conservatives helped him string together a run of primary victories, but he continued to lag behind in the delegate count and folded his campaign in early April.
Exit poll after exit poll affirmed the overriding dynamic: Romney failed to win over blue collar voters, highly conservative voters or Americans seeking a candidate who shared their values. But he appealed to the middle of the spectrum, and more importantly he was the decisive favorite for voters whose primary concern was putting a Republican -- any Republican -- in the White House.