Romney will devote much time in coming weeks to raising money, aiming to pick up roughly $800 million by November. He and Obama are declining federal campaign financing for the general election — and avoiding its spending limits. It will be the first time both major-party candidates have done so since the program started in 1976. Obama raised a record $750 million for his 2008 presidential campaign. So far this year, he's running ahead of Romney, but the gap is closing.
It will be the most expensive election in U.S. history, even before considering the tens of millions to be spent on both sides by the new super PACs, which are able to take in limitless amounts of money and yet operate almost like an extension of a candidate's team.
For Obama, the coming months will mark his full-bore entry into the race for a second term. While he has been wooing donors at fundraisers for many months, he'll start doing official re-election campaign rallies on Saturday in Ohio and Virginia.
Obama's travel — both official and campaign — is also expected to pick up, with a West Coast swing already planned for May. Even events billed as "official" travel are likely to take on a campaign feel, as happened last week with Obama's two-day trip to college campuses in the battleground states of North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa.
The Obama campaign will also use the coming months to amplify its portrayal of Romney as an out-of-touch protector of the rich.
Romney will press his business credentials, claiming he knows how to create jobs while Obama doesn't.
While Romney advisers admit Obama's bully pulpit is larger, they've adopted a strategy of shadowing as many of his events as possible to stay in his face.
Steps Romney must take next "have to do with the basics of the ground operation. Get people registered to vote. Get offices going behind the scenes as well as have periodic speeches on major policy," said James Thurber, a political scientist at American University. "It's a very hard thing to do, to keep interest going and conserve money and not make mistakes."
The general election campaign shifts into high gear after the conventions. Obama and Romney will meet for three debates — on Oct. 3, Oct. 16 and Oct. 22. The vice presidential candidates will debate on Oct. 11.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples and Julie Pace contributed to this report.
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