SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The race for president shifted dramatically Friday into a general election matchup between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney as the candidates delivered dueling, sharp-tongued speeches about the president's leadership.
In Appleton, Wis., Romney assumed the mantle of presumptive nominee, delivering a revamped address attacking what he called Obama's vision for a "government-centered society." Obama, in a four-stop swing through New England, offered a robust defense of his first term and invoked his 2008 rallying cry by characterizing his actions as "what change is."
For months, the Republican nominating contest has dominated national headlines, with Romney fending off intense challenges from more conservative alternatives. But with the former Massachusetts governor pulling ahead in the delegate count and the White House moving into full re-election mode, both sides are treating the campaign as a duel between Romney and Obama.
The president took credit for saving the auto industry, preventing economic collapse and passing a sweeping health care overhaul (though he did not mention the Supreme Court case challenging the law). His work is unfinished in Washington, he said, and he exhorted wildly enthusiastic crowds in Burlington, Vt., and suburban Portland to help him win another term so that more change can come.
Obama also signaled the broad themes in his quest for re-election and offered his sharpest critique yet of what he called the GOP's vision for America. Although he never named Romney, he framed a choice between middle-class security and "you're on your own" economics.
Romney, in Wisconsin, delivered the latest of what his campaign calls his "framing speeches," this one about "restoring America's promise." It was a passionate defense of America's free-enterprise system, which he said has been under attack by an administration that considers business as "the villain and not the solution."
Romney was introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., whose endorsement earlier in the day signaled the candidate's latest success in convincing Republicans to rally around him.