2012 ELECTION

Mitt Romney facing challenges

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Reality has smacked Mitt Romney in the face.

Romney grabbed important wins in D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin on Tuesday. (Photo: Associated Press)

President Barack Obama used the power of the presidency Tuesday to ring the general election's opening bell, declaring in no uncertain terms that he and his mammoth organization are ready to take on Romney - whether the presumptive GOP nominee is ready or not.

And despite what he may say, Romney is not, according to an Associated Press analysis.

The former Massachusetts governor, who won three more primaries Tuesday and is on track to claim his party's presidential nomination in June if not before, is facing a challenge of historic proportions.

Just one Republican - Ronald Reagan - has defeated a Democratic incumbent president in the last century.

And Romney faces an incumbent with five times more staff, 10 times more money, and the world's greatest bully pulpit. Using that platform Tuesday, the president criticized Romney by name, telling news executives at the annual meeting of The Associated Press that his likely general election opponent supported a "radical" Republican budget plan he characterized as "thinly veiled social Darwinism."

He accused Republican leaders of becoming so extreme that even Reagan, one of the party's most cherished heroes, would not win a GOP primary today.

The president's critique came just one day after his campaign launched a TV ad in six general election battleground states that suggested that Romney stood with "Big Oil."

And it all comes amid a Democratic effort to paint Romney as part of a Republican Party that Obama's party is casting as too conservative for the country.

Romney hit back after he won primaries in Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Maryland, telling cheering supporters in Milwaukee that the president has become "a little out of touch" after "years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers telling you that you're great and you're doing a great job."

Added Romney, "You know, out-of-touch liberals like Barack Obama say they want a strong economy, but in everything they do, they show they don't like business very much."

With that, the contours of the general election were set - and the attack lines unveiled.

Each candidate cast the other as too extreme for the center of the country - speaking directly to the independents who play a critical role in general elections because they determine who wins close races.

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