Mitt Romney swept the Kentucky and Arkansas Republican presidential primaries Tuesday, inching closer to the GOP nomination he is certain to win.
With no serious opposition left, the former Massachusetts governor easily won both contests, capturing all 42 delegates at stake in Kentucky and at least 21 of the 33 delegates at stake in Arkansas where 12 delegates were still undecided.
Romney has 1,055 delegates, leaving him just 89 shy of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination for president. He should reach the threshold next Tuesday, when voters go to the polls in Texas, which offers 152 delegates.
Assured of the party nod, Romney has been in general election mode for weeks. He has been spending much of his time fundraising and focusing on Democratic President Obama.
As voters in the two Southern states weighed in, Romney spent Tuesday evening at a fundraising event in New York where his campaign said he raised $5 million. Romney's campaign has raised roughly $15 million during a three-day fundraising swing in the New York area.
He is scheduled to make a campaign appearance today in Washington.
Romney had struggled in some earlier primaries in Southern states, when former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were in the race. With them on the sidelines, Romney displayed solid support in two states he should win in November.
Even though they have left the race, Santorum, Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul were on the ballot in Kentucky and Arkansas.
Meanwhile, the latest polls show the presidential race is tightening, with voters nearly evenly divided between the two candidates.
The candidates are locked in a dead heat over handling the economy, the top concern of voters, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows. They are tied at 47 percent.
Overall, 49 percent said they back Obama for re-election and 46 percent preferred Romney, a statistically insignificant difference.
Earlier polls generally showed Romney holding a slight lead over Obama on economic issues and Obama slightly ahead overall.
But the tightening follows an aggressive attack on Romney's business credentials by the Obama campaign, including ads painting him as a job-destroying corporate raider at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he co-founded.
Romney called the attacks "character assassination." He argues that his business experience with the Boston-based firm Bain Capital makes him best suited to fix the economy and create jobs.
Obama defended the tactic on Monday as legitimate and suggested Romney's background was a poor qualification for the White House since being president involves more than "maximizing profits."
Vice President Biden argued Tuesday at an appearance in Keene, N.H., that Romney's private sector experience doesn't make him any more qualified to be president than it does to make him a plumber.
"That doesn't mean that private equity guys are bad guys -- they're not," he said at Keene State College. "But that no more qualifies you to be president than being a plumber. And, by the way, there're an awful lot of smart plumbers. All kidding aside, it's not the same job requirement."
In another development, former Secretary of State Colin Powell declined Tuesday to renew the presidential endorsement he gave Obama four years ago, saying he wasn't ready "to throw my weight behind someone" at this time.
The former chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cabinet member under President George W. Bush demurred when asked on NBC's "Today" show if he was backing Obama again. A longtime GOP figure, Powell caused a stir in Republican political circles four years ago by endorsing Obama over war hero Sen. John McCain, calling Obama a "transformational figure."
"It's not just a matter of whether you support Obama or Romney. It's who they have coming in with them," he said.
He said he's "still listening" to Republican ideas, calling Romney "a good man" and saying he wasn't ready to make a commitment to Obama.