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With Rick Santorum out, it’s finally Obama vs. Romney


This news story was published on April 11, 2012.
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By David Lightman and William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers –

WASHINGTON — The general election campaign — President Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney — officially began Tuesday afternoon.

It’s been stirring for a while, as the two combatants have been blasting away at each other. But with Rick Santorum, Romney’s chief rival for the Republican nomination, leaving the race, the former Massachusetts governor is now free to aim squarely at Obama.

Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul remain GOP contenders, but neither has shown much ability to win votes.

“Dr. Paul is now the last — and real — conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” Paul’s campaign said in a statement on Santorum’s exit from the race. Gingrich tweeted, “It’s now a two person race.”

The convention delegate count suggests otherwise. Romney has 661 delegates to August’s Republican National Convention so far, according to an Associated Press count, and he needs 1,144 to win. He praised Santorum on Tuesday as an “able and worthy competitor.” Santorum won 285 delegates, Gingrich has 136 and Paul has 51.

So the brawl to the November finish is on. Just before Santorum announced his decision, Obama was eyeing Romney, telling a campaign event in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., “There are contrasting visions here.”

The president said, “This election will probably have the biggest contrast that we’ve seen maybe since the Johnson-Goldwater election. Maybe before that.”

The late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, a staunch conservative Republican, ran against President Lyndon Johnson, who had strong liberal support, in 1964. Johnson won in a landslide.

While Obama didn’t mention Romney by name Tuesday, his campaign did.

“It’s no surprise that Mitt Romney finally was able to grind down his opponents under an avalanche of negative ads. But neither he nor his special interest allies will be able to buy the presidency with their negative attacks,” campaign manager Jim Messina said.

“The more the American people see of Mitt Romney, the less they like him and the less they trust him,” he said.

At roughly the same time that Obama spoke Tuesday, Romney supporters were briefing the news media on the differences between the candidates.

“There’s a sense of a lack of opportunity in the country,” former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent charged. “The president’s policies have burdened the economy.”

Obama defends his major initiatives — the 2009 economic stimulus and the 2010 federal health care law among them — while saying that the economy is improving.

Romney counters that the Obama measures were nothing more than big government initiatives funded by out-of-control spending and the economy isn’t as robust as it could be.

At the moment, Obama is the race’s slight favorite, but Romney is very much in the running. An ABC News-Washington Post poll taken from last Thursday through Sunday found that by 49 percent to 37 percent, voters thought that Obama better understands the economic problems that people in the country are having.

The margin shrunk to a 46 percent to 43 percent advantage when voters were asked whom they trusted to do a better job creating employment.

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