ZANESVILLE, Ohio (AP) — After a rough stretch, a confident Mitt Romney is back to casting himself as the inevitable Republican nominee.
Romney, set to pick up a bunch of delegates on Super Tuesday, is trumpeting support from the GOP establishment and focusing on President Barack Obama — all the while mostly ignoring his GOP rivals — in the final hours of campaigning before the 10 state contests.
"I hope that I get the support of people here in Ohio tomorrow, and in other states across the country," Romney told supporters Monday in Youngstown, Ohio. "I believe if I do, I'll get the nomination. And then we can start organizing our effort to make sure that we replace President Obama."
Romney's wife, Ann, went even further during their rally in Zanesville. "There's only one answer. It's right here," she said. "If Mitt wins, America wins. If Mitt loses, America loses."
As Romney has learned before, wrapping himself in the cloak of inevitability carries risks. Not the least of those is coming across as entitled — and potentially turning off a conservative GOP base that already views him skeptically.
Romney is again pitching himself as the most focused and best organized candidate — and because of that, the only GOP hopeful capable of beating Obama in the fall.
"I look at this campaign right now and I see a lot of folks all talking about lots of things," Romney said in Youngstown. "But what we need to talk about to defeat Barack Obama is getting good jobs and scaling back the size of government, and that's what I do."
Even if he loses Tuesday's popular vote in this bellwether state, Romney will likely pick up a significant number of delegates, which will add heft to the inevitability argument.
"No state is a must-win state," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser. "I do believe that on Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney will win a majority of the delegates that are up for grabs. I can't predict how many states he'll win, but he will win a majority of delegates. That's how we've planned his time and so we're looking for a good day."
Romney has won four consecutive contests, including Saturday's Washington caucuses. His broad, well-disciplined organization all but assures he'll collect more delegates than his opponents on Tuesday, in contrast with Rick Santorum's looser group of supporters. Santorum and Newt Gingrich did not collect enough signatures to qualify for the Virginia ballot, for example, and Santorum cannot win 18 of Ohio's 66 delegates for similar reasons.
Romney's schedule over the weekend and in the final day of campaigning before Super Tuesday reflects his campaign's intense focus on the delegate fight. On Sunday he was in Tennessee and in Georgia, Gingrich's home state. Both states award delegates proportionally, offering Romney an opportunity to scoop up a few even if he loses the popular vote in each.
In Ohio on Monday, Romney's first stop was at a guardrail in factory in Canton, in the state's 16th congressional district — where Santorum is not immediately eligible for two of the three available delegates. His bus stopped later in Youngstown, one of the media markets in the 6th Congressional District, where Santorum isn't immediately eligible for any of the three delegates.
All told, 419 delegates are at stake Tuesday. Romney leads with 203 delegates from previous contests, Santorum has 92, Gingrich has 33 and Ron Paul, 25. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the nomination.
Inevitability is a critical piece of the campaign's outreach to the establishment figures in the GOP who have so far been reluctant to coalesce behind his candidacy. And as voters prepare to head for the polls, Romney and his allies ratcheting up arguments to GOP members of Congress and the establishment that it's time to finish the primary process and turn the focus to Obama.
Obama "is raising millions of dollars every month ... this is a huge juggernaut effort, and we're going to have to make sure that we push back against that kind of machine," Romney said in Youngstown.
On Sunday, he earned support from conservative Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and from Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader.
"More and more people are starting to see that it's time for us to unite," said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a Romney supporter.
It's a critical time for the former Massachusetts governor to make his case, in part because he faces unfriendly territory in the weeks following Super Tuesday. Romney has struggled in the South — Gingrich is leading in polls in Georgia and the race is close in Tennessee — and next up after voting this week are contests in Alabama and Mississippi as well as Kansas.
Romney's advisers say the primary process has made the former Massachusetts governor a better candidate.
"It's toughened him up," Fehrnstrom said. "He's a little bit under the weather today, but he's battling right to the last hour to win Ohio and talk about his pro-jobs message. He's a fighter and he's going to be plugging away until the last vote is counted."