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Mitt Romney seeks to make Illinois victory into 2012 campaign turning point

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Mitt Romney waves to a crowd in Schaumburg, Ill., Tuesday, March 20, 2012. (Steven Senne/AP)

Shortly after he wrapped up his victory remarks, Mitt Romney emailed out a fundraising appeal to his supporters with a telling subject line: "Time to close"

It reflects both the frontrunner's wishful thinking that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul would pack up and go home and the Romney campaign decision to become more assertive about declaring the former Massachusetts governor the presumptive GOP nominee.

"I think it is another sign that the Republican Party is uniting behind Mitt Romney's candidacy," senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told CNN of his candidate's victory in Illinois. "At some point the reality is going to set in that Mitt is the all but certain nominee," he added.

Irrespective of how Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul plan to move through the primaries and caucuses on the calendar from now until June, the Romney campaign is shifting into victory mode. Romney no longer wants to be perceived as the weak frontrunner who cannot win the hearts and souls of the voters at the core of his own party--his campaign is pushing Romney as the experienced and prepared contender ready to defeat President Obama, particularly when it comes to righting the American economy.

If you watched Ann Romney and her frontrunning husband Mitt deliver their victory remarks in Schaumburg, Illinois on Tuesday night in front of a ballroom of supporters, you might be wondering where the extraordinarily wealthy and out-of-touch elite CEO had gone.

Of course, that is the funhouse mirror image of Romney that President Obama and his team have spent the better part of the last year trying to sear into the minds of the American voters.

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Instead, you saw a doting wife who used "fix it" no fewer than three times in the span of minutes when describing what her husband would do to Washington and the economy if he were to win the White House.

Romney, meanwhile used his victory remarks to drive home the image of a deeply experienced businessman who learned the ins and outs of the American economy through successes and failures in the private sector.

"You can't learn that teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago," Romney said standing 40 miles away from President Obama's former classroom.

Romney also sought to wrap his message of economic competence in Reaganesque "city on a hill" style imagery. Innovation and entrepreneurship are not just at the heart of a robust recovery, he said, but also at the core of the "American dream."

But Tuesday night's victorious, economic champion Mitt Romney is not the one presented in the bulk of the campaign coverage. And changing that may prove Romney's greatest challenge as he attempts move from the primaries to the general in 2012.

He has yet to prove his ability at driving a positive message that both illustrates his vision for the future while simultaneously becoming the larger public story of Mitt Romney.

It is, no doubt, challenging to close down a nomination race while your competitors are still running, but Romney and his team have a far greater challenge: upending a narrative built by his Democratic opponents that has solidified in the minds of voters.

For that reason more than any other, the Romney campaign needs to successfully convince all Republicans that it is indeed "time to close."

David Chalian is the DC Bureau chief for Yahoo News.

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