Romney eager to shift focus to Obama

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By WILL LESTER, Associated Press

A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Tuesday, April 3:

WHAT'S HAPPENING

ROMNEY EAGER TO FOCUS ON OBAMA: Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is eager to shift his campaign's focus to the general election campaign against President Barack Obama. Never mind that voters were going to the polls for GOP contests Tuesday in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Romney, who has an overwhelming lead in the delegate count, said Obama "gets full credit or blame" for the economy, previewing a look-ahead line of attack. Romney's message served double duty as a subtle push to trailing rival Rick Santorum, who has pledged to continue campaigning against Romney until the front-runner has won the presidential nomination. "The right thing for us, I think, is to get a nominee as soon as we can and be able to focus on Barack Obama," Romney said in an interview with Fox News. "You have to remember that it was Ross Perot that allowed Bill Clinton to win." Perot ran as an independent in the 1992 general election, when Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush. At the same time, Romney and Obama are trading jabs and acting as though the fall campaign is all but set, though Romney suddenly faces a better organized, better financed campaign backed by the power of the presidency.

OBAMA SAYS GOP WOULD NOT BACK REAGAN: President Barack Obama says even the "Gipper" would have trouble succeeding in this very conservative Republican Party. Obama said Republicans want to force a "radical vision" on the nation, accusing the opposition party of moving so far to the right that even one of its beloved figures, Ronald Reagan, could not win a GOP presidential primary. Obama sought to present himself to voters as the protector of the middle class and the leader of a Democratic Party that is willing to compromise in Washington. He singled out Mitt Romney for criticism and more broadly said Republicans had shifted from any reasonable debate on health care, debt reduction and the environment. Republicans "will brook no compromise," Obama told news executives at the annual meeting of The Associated Press. He cited a Republican presidential debate late last year when the entire field rejected the prospect of $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases as a means to lower the debt. Republicans called Obama's remarks a partisan attempt to cover up broken pledges to cut the federal deficit in half, curb spending and make tough choices to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

OBAMA'S BID TO LINK ROMNEY TO BIG OIL: A new ad by the Obama campaign goes after Mitt Romney as a candidate backed by "Big Oil." This ad from President Barack Obama's re-election campaign features a narrator saying that under Obama domestic oil production is at an 8-year high. "So why is Big Oil attacking him?" asks the narrator. Obama's face fills a TV screen behind the words "Big Oil Attack Ad." The narrator goes on to say, "Because he's fighting to end their tax breaks." The ad is airing in several swing states. Obama's ad attempts to take the initiative in the campaign debate over rising gas prices and is also a response to a recent $3.6 million ad buy by an outside group assailing Obama's energy record, blaming him for gas prices and his decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline project. Gas prices promise to be a major campaign issue, and Republicans want to tap into voter frustration by blaming Obama for policies they claim are restricting U.S. oil production and pushing up energy costs.

PALIN, COURIC IN A BIT OF 2008 NOSTALGIA: Sarah Palin was the much-hyped guest co-host on NBC's "Today," going head-to-head against former "Today" anchor Katie Couric, who this week is subbing on "Good Morning America" at her current workplace, ABC. Host Matt Lauer joked that as part of the "Today" team, Palin was briefly including herself in the "lamestream media" she often rails about. But Couric, with whom Palin has a particular beef after a bruising 2008 interview as the GOP vice presidential candidate, went unmentioned. The closest reference to that face-off, which took place when Couric anchored the "CBS Evening News": Palin was first glimpsed Tuesday on the "Today" couch with her face buried in newspapers. It was a good-sport nod to an embarrassing moment from the Couric interview, when Palin couldn't name any newspapers she regularly read, instead replying that she read "all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years."

GALLUP NATIONAL TRACKING POLL

The Gallup national tracking poll out Tuesday shows Mitt Romney maintaining a healthy lead over Rick Santorum and his other rivals.

Mitt Romney — 41 percent

Rick Santorum — 25 percent

Newt Gingrich — 12 percent

Ron Paul — 11 percent

NEXT CONTESTS: After Tuesday, voting in the Republican presidential race goes on spring break, taking a pause for three weeks and giving the candidates a chance to exhale, raise money, reassess strategy and, perhaps, even spend quality time with family. The contest will resume April 24 when five Northeastern states hold primaries: Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

WHERE THEY'LL BE WEDNESDAY:

— Gingrich: North Carolina

— Paul: California

— Romney: Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania

— Santorum: Pennsylvania

IN THEIR WORDS:

— "He said that he's 'very supportive' of this new 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, on Romney's support for the budget plan by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

— "I think it'd be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan's budget and to adopt it and pass it along to the president." — Romney, in a telephone town hall meeting last week with Wisconsin voters.

— "It's kind of the least of the worst, I guess. I did vote for Obama. But ... I think it's time for a change." — Michelle Mueller of Brookfield, Wis., explaining her vote for Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who dropped out of the race in January.

— "I have yet to find an honest politician who'll do what he says he'll do. That includes Mitt Romney. ... I'm mad at this country. I'm mad at our politicians." — Rick Defenbaugh of Sun Prairie, Wis., explaining his vote for Romney as more of a protest against Obama.

— "Ronald Reagan, who as I recall was not accused of being a tax-and-spend socialist, understood repeatedly that when the deficit started to get out of control that for him to make a deal he would have to propose both spending cuts and tax increases. He did it multiple times. He could not get through a Republican primary today." — President Barack Obama, in a speech to news executives at the annual meeting of The Associated Press.

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