Winners and losers of Romney’s Republican primary triumph

With Mitt Romney having all but clinched the Republican presidential nomination, he'll now have to work to unify the party behind his candidacy.

But that might not be as easy as it sounds.

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Rick Santorum's exit from the race Tuesday was noticeable for what it lacked — any mention of Romney, let alone an endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor.

And despite the fact Romney's chief rival bowed out, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul vowed to campaign on. While they are unlikely to pose a major threat, they could prove an annoyance as Romney shifts into general-election mode.

Romney certainly took some hits throughout the Republican primary process, and he enters the general election as an underdog to President Obama.

Some GOP kingmakers got behind Romney early, while others actively worked against his bid. In the weeks ahead, Romney will strive to bring the GOP together. But he will not forget who opposed him. Politicians never do.

The winners and losers of Romney’s victory follow.

Winners

Republican leaders in Congress. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refrained from endorsing, but their deputies — Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) — all backed Romney. Boehner and McConnell knew that anyone but Romney could have significantly hurt Republicans down ballot come November. Romney’s win increases the chances Boehner will remain Speaker and McConnell will become majority leader in 2013.

Centrist Republicans. In 2008, Romney ran as the conservative alternative to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Whether it was fair or not, Romney was viewed as the centrist candidate this time around. Centrists in the GOP don’t often get their way, but Republicans like Reps. Charlie Bass (N.H.), Dave Reichert (Wash.) and Steven LaTourette (Ohio) are breathing easier now.

The business wing of the GOP
. Romney ran on his business background and industry leaders backed his candidacy. Social conservatives, worried about Romney’s change of position on abortion, coalesced behind former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). In this intraparty battle, business interests won out.

National Review
. Late last year, the conservative publication ripped Newt Gingrich as he was moving up in the polls. The article didn’t pull any punches, but the cover illustration of Gingrich as Marvin the Martian stunned many in the GOP. The magazine, which was founded by the late William F. Buckley Jr., took a lot of heat for its cover. Gingrich subsequently faded.

Losers

The Tea Party. Polls show that the Tea Party has lost some of its clout, and Romney’s victory is yet another indication that it is not nearly as strong as it was in 2010. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), who founded the Tea Party-affiliated FreedomWorks, has openly criticized Romney. Frustrated by Romney’s success in the primary, Armey earlier this year said he was focusing on electing conservatives to Congress. Last month, after it was apparent Romney had the nomination wrapped up, FreedomWorks dropped its opposition to the former Massachusetts governor.

Rush Limbaugh, a champion of the Tea Party movement, hasn’t been enamored with Romney. The conservative talk-show host last fall said the former Massachusetts governor “is not a conservative.” Months earlier, Limbaugh lambasted Romney’s remarks on global warming, suggesting they were the kiss of death. At the time, Limbaugh said, “Bye-bye, nomination.”

Social conservatives. Leaders of the movement rallied around Santorum, but it was too little, too late. Bob Vander Plaats, the influential social conservative leader in Iowa, tried everything he could to prevent Romney from winning. At times, Vander Plaats — who backed Santorum — seemed to be making headway. But the multi-candidate field, coupled with Romney’s vast resources, was too much to overcome. Vander Plaats has said he would vote for Romney over Obama.

Bobby Jindal. The Louisiana governor was an early backer of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), and that move backfired. And while the former congressman has been mentioned as a possible running mate to Romney, he is not a leading contender.

Mixed

President Obama. The president’s reelection team has been preparing for a Romney win, partly because it fears him the most. Democrats briefly relished the idea of a Gingrich-versus-Obama matchup. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said a Gingrich primary win would be the best thing to happen to Democrats since Barry Goldwater. Obama is in better political shape than he was last fall and one of the reasons is Romney’s long march to the nomination. Yet independent political handicappers say that Romney has a decent chance to beat Obama.