Mitt Romney finally is free to focus on the November election. But the all-but-crowned GOP presidential nominee still has a difficult course to navigate.
Pushed to the right in the brutal primary battle, he now can try to repair the damage he was dealt and reach out to constituencies he will need in the general election. Polls show he trails seriously among women voters and has problems with Hispanics because of his hardline positions on immigration.
Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom famously suggested that Romney, a moderate as governor of Massachusetts, could reset his strategy after nailing down the GOP nomination much like one would start a new picture on an Etch A Sketch toy.
With the exit of Rick Santorum, Romney "doesn't have to talk conservative anymore," said conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. "Will he continue to do so? We will find out. It won't take very long."
Of course, it's not that simple.
Romney can't afford to further alienate conservatives, who have yet to embrace him warmly. He needs to rally them for November. And any overt tack to the middle would reinforce criticism — first leveled by Republicans — of him as a flip-flopper. He'll likely look to his right for a running mate.
Also, President Barack Obama keeps highlighting wide differences between them, even suggesting the choice will be as stark as the 1964 race between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater.
That may be a bit of a stretch, but it's a point Obama keeps hammering home as he continues to paint Romney as out of touch and beholden to the rich. He did it again Wednesday, promoting his proposal for a minimum tax on millionaires for the second day in a row.
Follow Tom Raum on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum