Gloves are off at last as the battle for the White House gets personal
The phoney war in the 2012 presidential election has finally ended, to be replaced with a seven-month bruising run-off for the White House.
Rick Santorum’s decision to pull out of the Republican race on Tuesday has put to rest any lingering doubts over who will represent the party as it seeks to oust President Barack Obama.
It leaves the way open for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to focus his attention on the battle for the White House, in an ideological fight that looks set to be well-funded and bad-tempered.
“The campaign started yesterday, the general election campaign,” Mr Romney told Fox News yesterday, seemingly relishing being freed from the constraints of the primary contest.
The withdrawal of the socially conservative Mr Santorum removes the last bump in the way of the frontrunner ahead of the Republican Party’s summer convention.
Mr Romney now faces the twofold task of uniting a party that appears split between moderates and a deeply conservative right wing and shaking off a perceived personal image of an out-of-touch multi-millionaire.
Solving the first issue could come in the shape of a conservative running mate for the vice- presidential ticket.
Yesterday, Mr Romney held out the possibility of the post going to a former challenger to the Republican throne. He said he would be going through a list of “extraordinary leaders, including some of those who have run in this last contest with me”.
Given that Mr Santorum has previously indicated that Mr Romney would be the “worst Republican in the country” to challenge Mr Obama on healthcare – a key election battleground – it would take some backtracking for the pair to be on the same ticket.
But the so-called Massachusetts moderate will be hoping the former Pennsylvania senator will now fall in with his campaign, a move that could see him gain credibility among the party’s conservative base.
Perhaps of greater concern will be countering the Obama machine as it goes into full campaign mode.
In recent weeks, the president has gone personal in his attacks on Mr Romney, mocking his privileged upbringing and his immense wealth.
In comments yesterday, Mr Obama threw a couple of barbs in the direction of his White House challenger.
“It is just plain wrong that middle-class Americans pay a higher share of their income in taxes than some millionaires,” he told supporters at an event pushing for the adoption of the Buffett rule, which would see those earning more than one million dollars pay at least as much in tax as their employees.
The super-wealthy individuals that Mr Obama has in mind include Mr Romney, who paid just 14 per cent in tax on earnings of $21.6 million in 2010.
Yesterday also saw the president’s supporters launch a new ad that paints his rival as a deeply conservative “vulture” capitalist. It uses clips in which Mr Romney declares that “corporations are people” and that he “likes being able to fire people”.
The ad fits in with a political whispering campaign that claims the Republican Party is conducting a war on women through its healthcare and abortion policies.
Given that he is attacked for being too right-wing when many in his own party distrust his conservative credentials, Mr Romney has a fine line to walk.
For the time being, the Republican contender is content to attack Mr Obama, rather than define his own positions.
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