The real race is finally on: Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama, the pro-business Republican vs. the pro-government Democrat, the venture capitalist vs. the community organizer, two men offering starkly different visions of the America they want to see in the future.
With his sweep of all three primaries at stake Tuesday in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C., Romney emerged as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. President Obama acknowledged as much in a speech to newspaper editors as the votes were being cast Tuesday. In a fiery denunciation of GOP ideology, Obama mentioned Romney by name for the first time as his potential foe this fall, as he blasted the Republicans for being out of touch and out of date.
In their separate speeches to the nation Tuesday, the two men set up a clear debate over what America is, what the country should be and what kind of leaders the two political rivals really are.
In his victory speech, Romney portrayed Obama as an isolated elitist surrounded by sycophants. "He thinks he's doing an historically great job like Abraham Lincoln and LBJ and FDR, and no, he did not say this on 'Saturday Night Live,'" the former Massachusetts governor declared.
"It's enough to make you think that years of flying on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers telling you what a great job you are doing, well, that might be enough to make you a little out of touch."
For his part, Obama spoke dismissively of his counterpart as isolated, living in the past and more than a bit silly.
"One of my potential opponents, Governor Romney said that he's very supportive of this new [House Republican] budget, and he even called it 'marvelous'--which is a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing a budget. It's a word you don't often hear generally."
Obama called that budget a "Trojan horse" and an example of "social Darwinism" that would hurt middle-class families.
Speaking of the future, Romney derided Obama's goal of fundamentally altering America, saying "The president has pledged to transform America, and he's 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 an opportunity society, led by free people and free enterprises...I don't want to transform America. I want to restore the values of economic freedom and opportunity and limited government that have made this nation the leader it is."
Obama explained his own vision: "We've sought to ensure that every citizen can count on some basic measure of security...No matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any moment, might face hard times, might face bad luck, might face a crippling illness or a layoff."
Romney countered with a declaration that: "Free enterprise has done more to lift people out of poverty, to help build a strong middle class, to help educate our kids and to make our lives better than all of the government programs put together...Many Americans have given up on this president, but they haven't ever thought about giving up."
The past 24 hours, in short, underscored that it will be a tough and polarizing general election campaign. But it will feature a clear choice between two very different men with contrasting backgrounds, policies and visions.