Mitt Romney’s announcement Thursday afternoon that he is leaving the presidential race seems to sew up the Republican nomination for front-runner John McCain, a University of Georgia political science professor said.
"The GOP race is essentially over," Paul-Henri Gurian, associate professor in the school of public and international affairs, wrote in an e-mail to The Times. "Barring some extremely unusual set of events, McCain will be the Republican nominee."
According to counts from the Associated Press, McCain, an Arizona senator, already has earned 707 delegates. That’s more than half the 1,191 needed for the nomination, with several primaries remaining ahead of the September convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The 294 delegates earned by Romney now are free to vote for any candidate, Gurian said.
"By the time the actual balloting occurs at the national convention in September, I expect that most of his delegates will end up voting for McCain," he said.
A representative for Mike Huckabee’s Georgia campaign is hoping instead they’ll choose his candidate, who won Georgia in Tuesday’s presidential primary. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, is well behind McCain with 195 delegates nationally, according to the Associated Press figures.
"I wish Mitt Romney and his family well," said Craig Dowdy, Huckabee’s state finance director in Georgia. "We look forward to carrying on the campaign, and we invite all the Romney supporters to join our campaign."
Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann was a Romney supporter, but says he’s not sure who he will back now.
"Naturally, I’m disappointed," said Wangemann, who calls Romney a personal friend.
He met Romney at a reception in a Buckhead restaurant when the former Massachusetts governor first announced his presidential bid. Like Romney, Wangemann also is Mormon.
Wangemann was among 7,000-plus people in Hall County who voted for Romney in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Romney had the second-highest number of votes in Hall County. He earned 7,749 votes to Huckabee’s 7,947 among Hall County Republicans. McCain came in third with 5,553 votes.
Paul Stanley, chairman of the Hall County Republican Party, said he feels the strong showing here for Romney can be attributed to his stance on immigration.
"I think that showed the fact that Romney seemed to have a stronger position on immigration issues, and I believe a lot of Hall County Republicans feel immigration is one of the stronger issues," Stanley said.
Stanley added that McCain seems to have shifted from his initial stance on immigration.
"(McCain) has moved closer to the position that most Hall County Republicans support: a secured border and an orderly immigration system," Stanley said. "No one seems to be against or very few on the fringe of our party want to see no immigration. They just want to see orderly immigration. No one’s opposed to an orderly system, and it looks like Sen. McCain is moving in that direction."
That may come as part of McCain’s efforts to bring the party together, putting its focus on the November election.
"McCain will now put his efforts into uniting the Republican party. It’s not clear when Huckabee will drop out, but he does not have a realistic chance of winning the nomination," Gurian said.
Gurian said that once the nominee from each party is selected, key issues likely will come to the forefront in the race.
"Once the Democrats choose their nominee, then the major issues of 2008 — the economy, the war in Iraq, health care, global warming, immigration, etc. — will come into sharper focus," he said.
Gurian said the Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, now likely will begin targeting McCain.
"Now that Clinton and Obama know who the Republican nominee will be, they may focus more on McCain; each one may try to persuade Democratic voters that he or she would have a better chance in the general election against McCain," he said.
Another local Republican agrees.
"I thought he would do better," said Dot Burns of Gainesville, a former Republican National committeewoman. "I want to see him run again. He is a such a conservative, business-minded man."
Staff writers Ashley Fielding and Harris Blackwood contributed to this story.