Mitt Romney, now the presumed Republican presidential nominee, has wasted little time re-focusing his campaign on the general election. Throughout the GOP nomination process, he zeroed in on criticism of President Obama in most of his stump speeches, but was also forced to give these addresses in states dictated by the nomination calendar – Iowa, New Hampshire, and so on. Not so now.
The former Massachusetts governor is scheduled to give a speech on the failings of the president's economic policies in Ohio on Thursday, even though he already won the state's primary more than a month ago. It's being billed by his campaign as a direct rebuttal to the speech delivered by Obama Wednesday, when the president talked about the economy and raised campaign cash in the Midwest. Ohio is widely considered one of the crucial swing states that could determine who wins the presidency this fall.
Romney was also in North Carolina Wednesday, which is also considered a swing state, but those GOP voters still have a chance to help Romney secure the nomination in their May 8 primary.
In another sign that the prolonged and dramatic Republican contest is over, GOP leaders who had been reluctant to weigh in have now officially cast their lot with Romney. This includes the top House and Senate Republicans–House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell–as well as a smattering of well-respected state leaders, such as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.
But now with the general election about seven months away, Romney faces new challenges. Whereas he was forced to constantly convince conservatives they could trust him in office on issues such as immigration, abortion, access to contraception, gun rights, gay rights, as well as taxes and addressing the deficit, he now must convince middle-of-the-road voters that he's not too extreme.
And he has to do it with Democrats and the Obama campaign's rapid response teams seeking out vulnerabilities and inconsistencies—blasting out responses to reporters with dozens of E-mails a day in the process—a far more aggressive and professional effort than his GOP rivals were able to mount.
Both Obama and Romney, who are on even footing in national polling at this stage, face challenges when it comes to turning independent voters their way. And both face a gender gap, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll, which shows Obama with a six point advantage among women and Romney with a six point advantage among men.