TUNKHANNOCK, Pa. (AP) — Mitt Romney is sharpening his focus on President Barack Obama and broadening his pitch to independents and Democrats. He has more security around him, his campaign team is growing and his crowds appear more excited to see him. It's a different world for Romney now that he's the almost-certain Republican presidential nominee.
The transition from the primary season is well under way for Romney and his team as the former Massachusetts governor campaigns this week across Pennsylvania, which is sure to be a general election battleground state.
"It isn't about one person or about even one party," Romney told a cheering crowd Thursday at his state headquarters in Harrisburg. Working to appeal not just to his party any more but to the country at large, he said, "We're Republicans and Democrats in this campaign, but we're all connected with one destiny for America."
With a broad appeal like that, it's easy to forget that the GOP primary season is still under way and that Romney still faces a Republican challenge — though a weak one — from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Santorum badly trails Romney in delegates and is looking to revive his struggling candidacy on April 24 when this state's Republicans weigh in on who should get the chance to challenge Obama this fall. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul also have refused to abandon their bids despite huge losing streaks.
Romney is more than halfway to the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the party's nomination, and he could reach that total by June if not earlier at his current pace. On Tuesday, he racked up victories in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C., and immediately shifted his focus to the Democratic incumbent with a pair of blistering speeches that castigated Obama and cast the fall contest as a choice between two competing ideological visions.
In the days since, Romney has returned to the campaign trail with a confident tone despite the significant hurdles he faces as he seeks to overtake an incumbent president at a time when the economy — on which Romney has based his campaign — is showing signs of improvement.
It's not just Romney's message that's evolving.
The Secret Service agents protecting him have started to implement additional measures now that he's the presumptive Republican nominee.
His campaign announced Thursday that former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will serve as a senior adviser, the first of what aides say will be a big expansion of the Boston-based campaign team. Until now, Romney has kept his campaign on the small side and has relied on an intimate group of advisers. He knows he needs more as he prepares to compete across the country against a major Obama re-election effort.
In recent days, the supporters who have showed up at Romney events in Pennsylvania have been treating him like a well-known general election candidate.
And Romney's Pennsylvania campaign headquarters buzzed with activity on Thursday.
"It's the general election that we really need to be fighting for," said Larry Furr, 53.
He was among four volunteers who made phone calls to urge supporters to vote for Romney, reading from scripts that emphasized what they said was their candidate's electability against Obama. "I really think he gives us our best chance" to win in November, the scripts said.
Romney, in a visit to the headquarters where he, too, made calls to prospective voters, was clearly looking past this state's primary — and focused on other things.
"On April 24 — is that — what day is April 24, is that a Tuesday?" he asked the crowd. "It's a Tuesday! I need you to — it's not that coming Tuesday, it's the one after that, or is it the one after that? It's the one after that!" Romney said, finally getting it right.
Romney is downplaying expectations for a Pennsylvania primary victory, mindful of mistakes he made earlier in the primary season. But this week he made it clear he would compete in Pennsylvania by coming straight here from Wisconsin, where he celebrated the trio of April 3 primary victories.
He made a quick trip to speak to newspaper editors and publishers on Wednesday in Washington where he directly challenged the president. And he has started to outline his central arguments against Obama, contending the president is an out-of-touch liberal who refuses to take responsibility for his actions.
"We have a president who I think is a nice guy, but he spent too much time at Harvard, perhaps, or maybe just not enough time working in the real world," Romney said as he campaigned Thursday. He'd said much the same thing Tuesday night after his primary wins.
"He's so out of touch with the American people that he doesn't see how many people are struggling amidst his policies," Romney said Wednesday night as he campaigned in Broomall.
A boisterous crowd gave him several sustained ovations and clamored for autographs, a scene fitting for the party's next standard-bearer.