(The Root) — It's been a long, winding road to the Republican presidential nomination for Mitt Romney (remember the days when Herman Cain and Rick Santorum were front-runners?). But upon winning the Texas primary election on Tuesday, the former Massachusetts governor finally reached the magic number of 1,144 delegates needed to clinch his party's nomination at the August convention. Although Romney won't earn the official nod until the convention, hitting 1,144 delegates in the Associated Press tally moves the presidential race to general-election mode.
What does this mean for Romney's campaign? For one thing, we can expect to see more shaking of the proverbial Etch A Sketch, as campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom famously described the way that Romney's positions will shift after the primaries. And as Vincent Hutchings, professor at the University of Michigan's Center for Political Studies, explains, shifting a campaign's message after the primaries in order to appeal to broader constituencies is a regular part of the game.
"In a primary election, that constituency is more ideologically homogeneous, so understandably a candidate will pitch a different message than he or she will when they face more ideologically diverse voters," he told The Root, adding that the criticism Romney received for this idea was overblown.
"The backlash [over the "Etch A Sketch" comment] assumes that it is somehow unique to Mitt Romney, as if the current occupant of the White House — not to mention every other previous occupant of the White House — hasn't done exactly the same thing," said Hutchings. "Once it became clear that the nomination was going to be his, Obama, for example, talked a lot about his admiration for Ronald Reagan. He didn't talk a lot about that in February, but he talked a lot about that in April and May when the thing seemed to be locked up."
Romney has used a similar tactic in recent months by expressing support for an extension of lower student-loan interest rates, showing interest in an alternative Republican version of the DREAM Act, and, most recently, reaching out to black voters.
This month the Romney campaign tapped Tara Wall as a communications adviser overseeing African-American outreach and the African-American former George W. Bush education secretary, Rod Paige, as special adviser on education. Romney also visited a West Philadelphia charter school last week to tout his education agenda and hopefully broaden his appeal to black voters.
"But I suspect that it is as much of an effort to reach out to blacks as it is to show others that he is trying to reach out to blacks," said Hutchings, explaining that many undecided white voters, for example, may be persuaded by Romney attempting to be inclusive. "Romney has no illusions that he's going to get a significant fraction of the black vote, but it may still make sense for him to at least make some outreach efforts because other nonblack voters would find that to be a desirable quality."
Now that Romney has dropped his "presumed nominee" status, locking up the Republican nomination, stay tuned for more Etch A Sketch shaking in the months ahead.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's senior political correspondent.