Romney for the GOP: Pennsylvania should set the seal on his nomination

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Four names will appear on the presidential primary ballot for Pennsylvania Republicans on April 24 -- but only three of them remain in the race and only one has any chance of becoming president. That one is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

With Rick Santorum suspending his campaign this past week, the party nomination appears to be Mr. Romney's for the taking. But conservative unease and suspicion of his candidacy could still find expression in a protest vote for one of the unelectable three.

That choice would not only be to ignore the inevitable but to damage a party in desperate need of coming together and focusing on the campaign against President Barack Obama.

All Americans -- not just Republicans -- have a stake in seeing a sitting president challenged seriously enough to have to justify his policies, and in troubled economic times that need is even greater. Such defining debates are the great gift of the American democratic system.

The political picture should be clear to everyone: The months of intraparty strife have moved the Republican brand sharply to the right and damaged its general election prospects in the process. The spectacle of candidates jostling to be seen as more ideologically pure than their rivals is something that has given hope back to Democrats, who started this year deeply worried about their electoral chances.

Mr. Romney has vouchsafed his conservative credentials over and over, and it is about time he was taken at his word by the party faithful. On the issues, he is all about economic revival on free enterprise principles.

Despite the past political apostasies that fueled conservative suspicion but are now disowned, he has passed the various litmus tests of a Republican nominee. In making his case, he has shown the gravitas that might appeal to independents and swing voters in the fall. Newt Gingrich with his blimp-like ego, Ron Paul with his libertarian eccentricity and Rick Santorum with his-bull-in-a-china-shop manner would never have a chance.

But the strongest temptation for Pennsylvania Republicans is to register a protest vote for Mr. Santorum in feelings of solidarity or compensation for "one of Pennsylvania's own." That would be a mistake. This state owes him nothing.

In fact, many Pennsylvania Republican candidates are likely to lose because he pulled the plug on his candidacy, making this primary less important in the presidential sweepstakes and thus dampening GOP voters' desire to go to the polls a week from Tuesday.

Mitt Romney, the last serious candidate in the GOP race, is the Post-Gazette's recommended choice for Republicans, who would be best served by closing ranks behind his nomination.

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