Make no mistake: the general election battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is in full swing.
Even as Mitt Romney emerges from his hat-trick win in Tuesday night’s primaries, and looks ahead to the next batch of primaries on April 24 - which his campaign expects will include a knock-out win in Pennsylvania, his rival Rick Santorum’s home state - the fact is that he is now talking mainly about the rival that matters most: Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama and his campaign have now honed-in on Mitt Romney. Oblique references to their likely Republican opponent are of the past. Mr. Obama is naming Mr. Romney in speeches, and his campaign is running attack ads in battleground states against the former Massachusetts governor.
The last 24 hours have produced the kind of sound-bites you would expect from presidential candidates in the closing days of a U.S. general election campaign.
Here is a selection of the most memorable sound-bites from Mr. Obama’s Tuesday afternoon speech to an audience of news executives and Mr. Romney’s Tuesday night victory speech in Wisconsin. Together, they can be read as the outlines of a general election battle as it is likely to unfold over the next several months.
Obama sound-bite “This congressional Republican budget is something different altogether. It is a Trojan Horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism.”
The aim: This is the most strident language the president has used yet against Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, which was passed by the House of Representatives but will not pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. President Obama even ridiculed Mr. Romney by name for calling the plan “marvellous.” The goal here is to make Mr. Romney wear the budget plan until election day in November, and attack him at every step.
Romney sound-bite “Under this President's watch, more Americans have lost their jobs than during any other period since the Depression. Millions have lost their homes, and a record number of Americans are living in poverty. And the most vulnerable have been hurt the most - over 30% of single moms are struggling in poverty. New business startups are at the lowest level in 30 years, and our national debt is at a record high. And when you drive home tonight and stop at a gas station, just take a look at the prices and ask yourself, ‘Four more years?’”
The aim: Make Mr. Obama wear the slow economic recovery, tap in to deep voter dissatisfaction, and try to connect with women and low-income voters.
Obama sound-bite “We’re told that when the wealthy become even wealthier, and corporations are allowed to maximize their profits by whatever means necessary, it’s good for America, and that their success will automatically translate into more jobs and prosperity for everybody else. That’s the theory.”
The aim: Pin the theory of Ronald Reagan-era ‘trickle-down economics’ on today’s Republicans, especially Mr. Romney, and suggest that, in practice, it is a scenario in which Americans would be left to fend for themselves.
Romney sound-bite “The President has pledged to ‘transform America,’ and he has spent the last four years laying the foundation for a new Government-Centered Society. I will spend the next four years rebuilding the foundation of our Opportunity Society, led by free people and free enterprises. Our different visions for America are the product of our values and our life experiences.”
The aim: The government-centred society reference does not quite roll off the tongue, but it is a powerful theme among Republicans and independents anxious about the size of government. Also, the idea of President Barack Obama as someone who does not share the values of most Americans will be a recurring theme.
Obama sound-bite “If you want to keep these tax rates and deductions in place -- or give even more tax breaks to the wealthy, as the Republicans in Congress propose -- then one of two things happen: Either it means higher deficits, or it means more sacrifice from the middle class.
“Seniors will have to pay more for Medicare. College students will lose some of their financial aid. Working families who are scraping by will have to do more because the richest Americans are doing less. I repeat what I’ve said before: That is not class warfare, that is not class envy, that is math.”
The aim: Win support for President Obama’s proposed ‘Buffett rule’ - that Americans earning more than a million dollars a year pay the same tax rate as middle-class families currently do. It is named after billionaire Warren Buffet, who is paying a lower rate of tax than his secretary.
Romney sound-bite “In Barack Obama’s Government-Centered Society, tax increases become not only a necessity, but also a desired tool for social justice. In that world of shrinking means, there’s a finite amount of money, and as someone once famously said, you need taxes to spread the wealth around.”
The aim: Mitt Romney’s repeated references to President Obama ‘socialist’ experiment on the GOP campaign trail will no doubt feature prominently in a general election campaign. But Mr. Romney is mainly drawing a contrast between his plan to cut spending and cut taxes across the board compared to President Obama’s plan to increase taxes for the wealthiest.
Obama sound-bite “We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves... And this sense of responsibility -- to each other and our country -- this isn’t a partisan feeling. This isn’t a Democratic or Republican idea. It’s patriotism.”
The aim: An appeal to the independents and swing voters, who are deeply unhappy with the Obama presidency and will decide the outcome of November’s election.
Romney sound-bite “Out-of-touch liberals like Barack Obama say they want a strong economy, but they really don’t like businesses very much. But the economy is simply the product of all the nation’s businesses added together. So it’s like saying you love omelettes but don’t like eggs.
“To build a strong economy that provides good jobs and rising wages and that reduces poverty, we need to build successful businesses of every kind imaginable. And President Obama has been attacking successful businesses of every kind imaginable.”
The aim: This is a strong Romney line that draws on his business experience and attacks the president’s poor grasp of the economy and how to make it grow. However, the “out-of-touch” reference, which he made twice in his speech last night, could back-fire.