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Runaway Romney turns fire on Obama

Mitt Romney, freed of his last serious challenger for the Republican presidential nomination, has unleashed blistering attacks on Barack Obama, assuring a brutal tone for the coming election campaign.

Rick Santorum, the former senator who had struggled under the negative advertising barrage by the better-financed and organised Mr Romney, left the Republican race 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 who apologises for America's greatness and prefers European-style socialism over robust free enterprise.

"The right course for America is not to divide America," Mr Romney said.

"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 important battleground state of Florida, said the choice this November will be as stark as in the 1964 contest between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, which resulted in one of the biggest Democratic landslides ever. That election included dramatic moments, such as Mr Goldwater's approval of "extremism in the defence of liberty" and a devastating TV ad suggesting a Goldwater presidency would lead to nuclear war.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said after Mr Santorum's withdrawal: "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.

But Mr Romney and his allies have proved their ability to raise millions of dollars to air brutally effective attack ads. The negative assaults crippled Mr Santorum and Newt Gingrich in primary contests. Mr Obama will raise many millions, too, and few doubt that he will hit Mr Romney hard.

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