Mitt Romney, freed of his last serious challenge for the Republican presidential nomination, has unleashed blistering attacks on Barack Obama, assuring a brutal tone for the coming election.
Rick Santorum, the former Senator who had struggled under the negative advertising barrage by the better-financed and organised Mr Romney, withdrew on Tuesday.
Mr Romney, the wealthy former Massachusetts Governor making his second presidential bid, intensified a full-throated assault on Mr Obama within hours of Mr Santorum’s departure.
He portrayed Mr Obama as a weak leader. He said: “The right course for America is not to divide America. That’s what he’s doing. His campaign is all about finding Americans to blame and attack, and find someone to tax more, someone who isn’t giving, isn’t paying their fair share.”
Mr Obama, campaigning in the battleground state of Florida, said this November’s choice will be as stark as the 1964 contest between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, which resulted in one of the biggest Democratic landslides ever.
An Obama campaign strategist said: “It’s no surprise that Mitt Romney finally was able to grind down his opponents under an avalanche of negative ads. ...The more the American people see of Mitt Romney, the less they like him.”
Other Obama campaign officials have mocked Mr Romney’s wealth and called him out of touch with average Americans.
Mr Romney and his allies have proved they could raise millions of dollars to air brutal attack ads which crippled Mr Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
Mr Obama will raise many millions, too, and few doubt that he will hit Mr Romney hard.