(CBS News) Mitt Romney on Saturday predicted he would win Wisconsin's primary on Tuesday, while acknowledging that until recently, his fortunes hadn't looked so certain. The former Massachusetts governor also picked up the endorsement of the state's largest circulation newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
"This was an uphill battle for me if you look back three or four weeks ago," Romney told phone bank volunteers making calls on behalf of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who faces a recall election in June. "And now we're looking like we're going to win this thing on Tuesday. But I gotta have you guys get out and vote."
The most recent NBC News/Marist poll shows Romney with a comfortable, 7-percentage-point lead over his closest rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum, a swing from polling in February which showed a tighter race. Since then, Romney posted a solid win in delegate-rich Illinois, swept Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and picked up endorsements from several popular Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former President George H.W. Bush.
Santorum, while landing victories in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, has not been able to close the gap with Romney in the all-important race to 1,144 delegates, the magic number needed to clinch the nomination. Santorum views Wisconsin as one of his remaining chances to upset the front-runner, a view shared by many leading fellow Republicans. He has spent most of the past week campaigning across the state.
In endorsing Romney, the Milwaukee newspaper said his "pragmatism" made him the best choice, and called him a "hard worker, a pragmatic problem-solver, a good manager." But the Journal-Sentinel's recommendation was tempered with a description of Romney as a "flawed front-runner."
"He is the clear choice in an uninspired -- and now dwindling - field," the editors wrote, and argued that Romney had shifted some of his positions too far to the right during the primary season, citing shifts on taxes, climate change and immigration.
Although he predicted victory, Romney also noted that his path to the nomination is not assured. "I've got a ways to go before I get 1,144 delegates, so I'm not counting the delegates before they hatch," Romney said during his stop at the phone bank. "But I'm going to keep working very hard and hope I get a good strong send off from Wisconsin. I got a good boost from the folks in Illinois, and if I can get that boost also from Wisconsin, I think we'll be on a path that will get me the nomination well before the convention. Sure hope so."