By DAVID ESPO and KASIE HUNT
WASHINGTON (AP) — The suspense gone, Mitt Romney glided into five primaries on Tuesday as the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting, piling up national convention delegates while commanding the spotlight to sharpen his appeal for the campaign against President Barack Obama.
Romney was readying a prime-time primary night speech titled "A Better America Begins Today," to be delivered in New Hampshire, one of a dozen or so states expected to be battlegrounds in the fall.
There were 209 delegates at stake Tuesday in primaries in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware, the first contests since former rival Rick Santorum conceded the Republican race to Romney.
Romney began the day with 698 delegates of the 1,144 needed for the nomination, compared with 260 for Santorum, 137 for Newt Gingrich and 75 for Ron Paul.
Santorum suspended his campaign two weeks ago rather than risk losing a primary in his home state of Pennsylvania.
Gingrich, too, seemed to be heading toward the sidelines, but first he wanted to see the outcome of the primary in Delaware, where he has campaigned in recent days and has pocketed a few endorsements. Jackie Cushman Gingrich, his daughter, said the former House speaker intended to reassess his debt-strapped candidacy on Wednesday.
The nomination in hand, Romney has begun focusing his attention on Obama in recent days, campaigning in key battleground states, appointing an aide to oversee his search for a vice presidential running mate and accelerating his fundraising for the fall.
On Monday, he offered support for Obama's call for legislation to prevent an increase in the interest rate on some student loans. In a second move toward the middle, he said his campaign was reviewing legislation to let young illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents apply for non-immigrant visas.
Under a measure being drafted by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential ticket-mate for Romney, the immigrants affected by the legislation would be allowed to study or work in the United States but would not have a special path to citizenship.
At the same time, Romney is slowly accumulating the delegates to ratify his nomination at the party convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer.
He picked up 12 delegates at congressional district conventions over the weekend in Missouri, a state Santorum once planned to contest heavily in hopes of blocking Romney's path to victory.