By Justin Sink
Mitt Romney fought back against his chief Republican rivals Monday, disputing the narrative that he was a weak GOP front-runner and saying that he was steadily building the delegate lead he needed to secure the nomination.
"It's funny to listen to these guys, they're saying what they wish were the case, not what happens to be the case," Romney said.
Romney said claims by Rick Santorum that he could not "close the deal" on the nomination despite his financial advantage were an unfair characterization.
Romney went on to chide Newt Gingrich for saying he was a "weak" front-runner.
"If I'm a weak front-runner, what does that make Newt Gingrich? Because I'm well ahead of him," Romney said.
The former governor was celebrating his 65th birthday Monday, and said he was hoping voters in the Deep South could provide him with the gift of a surprise win that could serve as a knockout punch to one or more of his GOP rivals.
"It's a happy birthday on the road and I'm hoping for a real big present tomorrow from Alabama and Mississippi," Romney said. "It'd be fabulous — of course, this is all about delegates, and at this stage, we're putting together as many delegates as we can, we have a good, solid lead."
Still, Romney was reticent on the matter of whether he had the nomination locked up, noting that despite posturing from his campaign aides, he did not believe his delegate count was insurmountable — especially if either Gingrich or Santorum exited the race.
"I don't think it's mathematically impossible at this stage — anything is possible in politics, even the impossible. But I do believe if one of the two of them were to decide not to run, I'd get some of their support, the other guy would get some of their support, but I'd expect to still go on and get the nomination," Romney said.