Romney seeks to eclipse Santorum in Wisconsin

Scott Pelley speaks with CBS News political director John Dickerson about Mitt Romney's win in the Illinois primary and the future of the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a town-hall campaign meeting on the campus of Bradley University March 19, 2012, in Peoria, Ill.
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(CBS News) Mitt Romney is looking to deliver a final blow to Rick Santorum's presidential campaign on Tuesday in Wisconsin.

With the help of high-profile backers and a well-funded super PAC, the former Massachusetts governor could secure enough delegates and momentum in Wisconsin to finally eclipse his main GOP rival. Santorum, however, has made clear he'll be putting up a fight, while Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul appear intent on staying in the race as well.

A new NBC/ Marist poll out of Wisconsin shows Romney with a seven-point lead over his rivals. Romney takes 40 percent while Santorum wins 33 percent support, Paul wins 11 percent and Gingrich takes 8 percent. A second poll from St. Norbert College and Wisconsin Public Radio gives Romney a tighter lead -- he wins 37 percent support while Santorum wins 32 percent support. The poll's margin of error is five points.

Should Romney win in Wisconsin, he would take all of the states 42 delegates, but the candidate and his supporters aren't leaving that to chance. Prominent Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan on Friday became the latest GOP establishment figure to endorse Romney. "We're entering a phase where it's counterproductive if [the primary] drags on much longer," he said on Fox News Friday morning. "We need to coalesce around Mitt Romney and focus on the task, which is defeating Barack Obama."

And as Romney travels across the state, the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future is blanketing the Wisconsin airwaves with ads slamming Santorum. The group purchased $2.3 million in ad time in Wisconsin, spokeswoman Brittany Gross told CBS News on Thursday. They released an ad this week attacking Santorum for saying recently, "I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be." It also attacks him for voting to raise the debt limit and voting for the notorious "bridge to nowhere."

But after a solid victory in Louisiana last week, the Santorum campaign isn't about to cede Wisconsin to Romney. Red, White, and Blue Fund, the super PAC backing Santorum, announced Thursday it's more than doubling its spending in Wisconsin, bringing its total investment to $660,000. One ad launched in the state blasts Romney for raising taxes in Massachusetts and passing the "blueprint for Obamacare."

If Santorum has any hope left of slowing down Romney's collection of delegates, it'd be through denying Romney the support of very conservative voters. The NBC/ Marist poll released today shows that in Wisconsin -- like other states -- Romney has the support of moderate and conservative Republican voters as well as those who do not support the Tea Party. Santorum, by contrast, wins over very conservative voters and Tea Party supporters.

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Santorum seemed to acknowledge as much during a campaign stop Thursday at the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, California. While Santorum has previously praised Rep. Ryan's budget plan, he said Thursday that the plan, which cuts $5 trillion in government spending over 10 years, doesn't go far enough. On Friday morning, Santorum declined to mention Ryan for the first time since arriving in Wisconsin four days ago.

Watch the Hotsheet Live panel discuss the current state of the race and whether it's too early to call Romney the presumptive nominee in the video at left.

If Santorum doesn't perform well in Wisconsin, the primary calendar may not offer him a chance to rebound. Along with Wisconsin, Republicans are voting in Maryland and the District of Columbia on Tuesday -- two areas where Romney is expected to do well. Romney should also have strong results later in the month, when states like Connecticut, Delaware and New York vote.

Santorum's one glimmer of hope should be his home state of Pennsylvania, which votes on April 24. However, Romney seems to have all but erased the 30-point lead Santorum had in Pennsylvania a month ago.

As for Gingrich, Wisconsin is likely to be the third state in a row in which he fails to win any delegates. Still, in an interview with WTMJ radio in Wisconsin, he said that Romney's victory is "not inevitable."

While he suggested he isn't ready to leave the race, Gingrich seemed to acknowledge the GOP establishment's message that it's time to stop attacking Romney.

"In the end we are people that want to make sure the Republican Party candidate is capable of defeating a guy that we think would be a disaster to re-elect, and I think you also see us focusing more and more attention on Obama," he said.

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