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Faltering Romney to meet with Hill allies

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyCentrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? China's genocide must be stopped MORE (R), coming off a disappointing Super Tuesday, will meet with his congressional supporters Thursday afternoon, sources tell The Hill.

Romney will meet with the members who endorsed his run at the Capitol Hill Club, shortly after addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference’s (CPAC) annual convention.

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As results were tabulated Tuesday night, speculation grew that Romney might be on his way out of the GOP presidential nomination battle after Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) built on his front-runner status and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee showed surprising strength in a number of Southern states.

Romney told assembled supporters Tuesday night that he planned to continue to run all the way to the convention, but network reports were soon widespread that the former governor was set to meet with his senior staff to discuss the future of the campaign.

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden neither confirmed nor denied Thursday’s Capitol Hill meeting, saying only that “any meetings scheduled in D.C. are part of our regular outreach with supporters.”

McCain extended his delegate lead over Romney substantially Tuesday night, winning 511 delegates to Romney’s 176, according to The Washington Post.

Overall, McCain has 613 delegates to Romney’s 269. To win the GOP nomination, a candidate needs 1,191 delegates.

Romney did manage to win seven states on Tuesday, but that was only two more than Huckabee. It also included Massachusetts, where he served as governor, and Utah, where the Mormon church is headquartered. Romney, a Mormon, has strong ties to the state, and helped rescue the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Still, because he has the ability to self-finance his campaign, Romney could go forward, and he has insisted that he can compete in several states holding contests in the next month. On Tuesday night, a defiant Romney insisted he would battle until the GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn.

“One thing that’s clear is this campaign’s going on,” he said. “I think there are some people who thought it was all going to be done tonight. But it’s not all done tonight. We’re going to keep on battling. We’re going to go all the way to the convention. We’re going to win this thing and we’re going to get to the White House.”

Romney has also continued to win support from conservatives, including talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh who see McCain and Huckabee as too liberal or untrustworthy.

Romney has a number of friends on Capitol Hill. Early on Romney launched an aggressive campaign to win congressional endorsements, partly because as an outsider he needed to introduce himself to the Beltway crowd. At one point, Romney even said it was Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) who suggested he seek the presidency.

Because of those early efforts, Romney secured more endorsements on Capitol Hill than any other candidate, even though he was competing with a host of sitting or former senators or members of Congress. That list of candidates, most of whom are no longer running, includes McCain and Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.).

Early in the race, with McCain as the front-runner — for the first time — Romney scored an early congressional backer on defense issues when Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Select Intelligence Committee, announced his support for a former governor not well known on the Hill.

Romney’s other Hill supporters also include Sens. Wayne Allard (Colo.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Bob Bennett (Utah).

Despite winning the Capitol Hill endorsement battle, Romney has not fared as well as McCain with voters.

The former governor put a significant amount of resources into winning last summer’s Ames, Iowa, Straw Poll, which he did. But as a harbinger of things to come, Huckabee stole headlines by doing much better than expected with a second-place finish built on almost no money.

Romney continued battling for wins in both Iowa and New Hampshire, where he has a vacation home, but by late December he was fighting a two-front war to win both.

He lost both battles as Huckabee surprised the political world with a convincing win in Iowa and McCain, five days later, made his comeback official with a win in New Hampshire.

The Romney camp adjusted, focusing on the governor’s birth state of Michigan, where he pulled off a win over McCain by channeling an optimistic voice on economic issues.

With South Carolina next on the calendar, Romney paid only lip service to a state where he had long run ads, choosing instead to compete almost entirely alone in the friendlier state of Nevada.

With wins in Michigan, Nevada and Wyoming, Romney entered into a protracted battle with McCain in Florida.

McCain’s eventual win in the Sunshine State crowned the Arizona senator the front-runner and prompted the series of questions about Romney’s future that could be answered at Thursday’s meeting.