Mitt Romney is expected to win all five Republican presidential primaries Tuesday, but Pennsylvania and Connecticut will be watched closely for signs that he could headed for trouble in those states in November.
A weaker-than-expected showing in Pennsylvania against Rick Santorum, who represented the state in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2007, would raise fresh questions about Romney's appeal in a general-election swing state. Pennsylvania polls show the presumptive GOP nominee within striking distance of President Barack Obama.
"What we're all looking for is, 'Will there be a sympathy vote for Santorum? A revenge vote?'" asked Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. "Romney doesn't want a four-point victory. The headline can't be about residual support for Santorum, or that Romney still has trouble with the conservative base in a state like this."
Connecticut also will offer some clues about Romney's November prospects there. The state shares a long border with Massachusetts, where Romney was the governor from 2003 to 2007, and it has a history of embracing GOP moderates. Romney should win it big, but a very low turnout - and lack of enthusiasm - could signal more trouble.
Those states, as well as New York, Delaware and Rhode Island, are expected to help Romney move closer Tuesday to the 1,144 Republican National Convention delegates he needs to clinch the nomination. He has 697 delegates, according to The Associated Press tally, with 231 at stake Tuesday.
Romney's reputation as a center-right pragmatist - an image he was trying to shake through the competitive primary season to court the party's conservative base - plays well in Tuesday's states. That's why Pennsylvania and Connecticut could be important to his November hopes. In Pennsylvania, Romney could have a chance in November if GOP and independent moderates in Philadelphia's suburbs and the blue-collar Democrats in the Lehigh Valley go his way.
"It's going to be a close general election in this state," Madonna said.
A Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvania last month showed Romney within 3 percentage points of Obama, and in 2010 voters elected a Republican governor, Tom Corbett, and U.S. senator, Patrick Toomey.
But first Romney has to overcome Santorum, who remains popular in some conservative Republican circles and hasn't yet endorsed his rival even though he suspended his campaign April 10. Romney has struggled elsewhere with die-hard conservatives, notably evangelicals, and he might do so again Tuesday in Pennsylvania. Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich are also on the ballot, and they have been seeking votes.
Romney has spent several days in Pennsylvania, run positive ads here and is backed by Corbett and Toomey. Romney campaigned Monday in Aston, a Philadelphia suburb, with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Romney wouldn't say whether Rubio is on his list of potential running mates.
Romney also discussed immigration Monday, saying he would look at Rubio's idea of allowing some young children of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States legally if they are in college or the military.
"It has many features to commend it, but it's something that we're studying," Romney said.
Romney's wife, Ann, was to campaign Monday night in Connecticut, a state that poses a different dilemma.
"There is no passion here, and passion is not something you can turn on and off like a faucet," said Chris DePino, a former Connecticut GOP chairman.
Romney is expected to win Connecticut easily, since its Republican Party is nearly identical to the neighboring Massachusetts GOP ideologically and has a recent history of electing center-right governors.
He also could benefit next fall from what's expected to be a lively U.S. Senate race in Connecticut for the seat held by retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who won his 2006 election with a huge Republican vote.
"Romney has to figure out how to use the passion of what may be a very spirited Senate race," DePino said. That could start with mobilizing Republicans to turn out Tuesday, but so far there are few signs of interest.
The other states that will vote Tuesday are seen as comfortable Obama states in November. The president led Romney in New York state by 22 points in an April 10-12 Marist College poll. Romney got an endorsement Monday from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a 2008 rival for the GOP nomination. Rhode Island is one of the country's most reliably Democratic states, and Delaware hasn't given its three electoral votes to a Republican since 1988.
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