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First Thoughts: Romney to wrap it up?

Romney about to wrap it up?... NBC/Marist poll shows Romney leading Santorum in Wisconsin, 40%-33%... Demographics are destiny: Poll shows that 41% of likely GOP primary voters in Wisconsin are evangelicals, and we know what that means… Poll also finds that Obama leads in the general election… Total Recall: Wisconsin’s polarized electorate divided on recall… Ryan to endorse Romney… And Obama’s SCOTUS silence so far, but that could change today.

Sean Gardner / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses supporters during a "Repeal & Replace Obamacare" campaign in Metairie, Louisiana March 21, 2012.

*** Romney to wrap it up? A new NBC/Marist poll of Wisconsin, as well as Rep. Paul Ryan’s new endorsement today, suggest that Mitt Romney is on the cusp of pulling away from his Republican rivals -- and for good. In the new poll, Romney leads Rick Santorum by seven percentage points among likely GOP primary voters, 40%-33%, with Ron Paul getting 11% and Newt Gingrich 8%. And when is a seven-point lead a potential blowout? When demographics have been destiny in this GOP presidential contest. So far, Romney has won in every contest where evangelical voters have accounted for less than 50% of the electorate, and he has lost in every contest where that number has been higher than 50%. The evangelical percentage among likely Wisconsin GOP primary voters, according to the NBC/Marist poll: 41%.

SLIDESHOWS: Mitt Romney | Rick Santorum

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd previews Tuesday's Wisconsin primary and explains whether Rick Santorum will leave the GOP race if he loses.

*** Demographics are destiny: Indeed, the Wisconsin race follows a familiar pattern: Romney holds the advantage over Santorum among liberal and moderate Republicans (43%-24%), conservatives (42%-33%), non-Tea Party supporters (42%-31%), and those who earn $75,000 or more annually (47%-32%). Meanwhile, Santorum leads among very conservative primary voters (42%-33%), strong Tea Party supporters (40%-32%), and evangelical Christians (40%-29%). But look at some of Santorum’s leads among “very conservative” and among “strong” Tea Party -- they aren’t blowouts. Another bad sign for him.

*** Obama leads in the general: Looking ahead to the general election, the NBC/Marist survey shows President Obama holding a sizable advantage over his Republican opposition in Wisconsin, which he carried in 2008 but where Republicans made big gains in the 2010 midterms. Obama leads Romney in Wisconsin among registered voters, 52%-35%, with 13% undecided. And he edges Santorum, 51%-38%, with 11% undecided. The poll suggests, however, that both Romney and Santorum would have room to grow in the general election, given that a LARGE portion of the undecided vote here leans Republican. The Obama number basically matches his job-approval rating (which is 50%). What we’re learning is that the GOP-leaning voters haven’t yet bought into the GOP candidates and some are simply sitting in the “undecided’ column; keep that in mind in general these days. Benefiting Obama is growing optimism about the state of the economy (52% believe the worst is behind them), as well as a more negative perception of the Republican Party (48% say the Democratic Party does a better job in appealing to those who aren’t hard-core supporters, while just 32% say that about the GOP).

Slideshow: Obama's 4th year in office

*** Wisconsin’s polarized electorate: As for this summer’s recall contest of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, it’s looking like a coin flip: 46 % of Wisconsin voters say they will support him in that race, while 48% indicate they’ll vote for the eventual Democratic candidate who will face off against the incumbent governor. (The potential good news for Walker here: He’s down two points to a generic candidate, not one that Republicans will be able to define.) Moreover, Walker’s approval rating in the state is 48%-48% -- yet another sign of how polarized the Wisconsin electorate is.  And get this: A majority of likely Republican voters say they’re following the recall more closely than the GOP presidential primary race, 51% to 37%. Yesterday, the state determined that there are more than 900,000 valid signatures to recall Walker, and the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is supposed to schedule the recall election today -- with primaries expected to occur on May 8 and the general on June 5. By the way, talking to strategists on both sides of the aisle about what impact the recall will have on November is this universal belief that the party that “loses” the recall will find its base a tad less enthusiastic. For Republicans, it means that a loss would almost certainly concede the state to the Democrats. For Democrats, a recall loss almost certainly means this state will be more like 2004 than 2008.

*** Ryan to endorse Romney: On FOX this morning, Ryan announced his endorsement of Romney, saying that the former Massachusetts governor "is the best person to be president" and "best person to beat" President Obama. "Mitt Romney is clearly that person," he added. Ryan also said he "spent a good deal of time with Romney" and "I am convinced Mitt Romney has the skills, principle, courage, and tenacity to do what it takes to get America back on track." And he stressed that the "primary could enter a phase when it becomes counterproductive if this drags on much longer." While Ryan held an official role with the RNC -- as head of the committee’s presidential trust -- that work is now completed, leaving Ryan free to endorse (as other RNC members and members of Congress have done).

*** On the trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: All the activity is in Wisconsin: Santorum holds rallies in Hudson, Eau Claire, and Chippewa Falls, and he hits a fish fry and bowls in Weston… Romney stumps in Appleton and Milwaukee… And Gingrich hosts a rally in Green Bay.

*** Obama’s SCOTUS silence (so far): Well, we found out how President Obama is reacting to the three days of Supreme Court oral arguments on the landmark health-care law: with silence so far. Yesterday, in remarks from the White House on legislation to end federal subsidies to the oil industry, Obama didn’t once mention the oral arguments, which suggested that the individual mandate -- and possibly entire law -- could be in trouble. But could he say something today? The president attends a combined four fundraisers today in Vermont and Maine, and it’s possible he says something about the matter to his donors. So don’t write this up as another fundraising day. We could have some news.

Countdown to DC, Maryland, Wisconsin primaries: 4 days
Countdown to Election Day: 221 days

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