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In Wisconsin, Mitt Romney is running against Obama, not Rick Santorum

Even before Tuesday's Wisconsin primary is finished, Mitt Romney breaks away from a tough GOP primary season to reset themes for a November campaign against President Obama

By Staff writer / April 3, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, accompanied by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, speaks at a building supply store in Green Bay, Wis., Monday.

Steven Senne/AP

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MILWAUKEE

Mitt Romney strode into a town hall meeting here late afternoon Monday, not accompanied by his wife or sons, but by one of the biggest stars in the national Republican Party: US Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

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That Congressman Ryan introduced Mr. Romney, and then sat beside him to help answer audience questions signals a shift in a tumultuous GOP presidential primary. After four months of hard knocks against GOP rivals, Romney is back to the place he wanted to be from the beginning – looking presidential.

Leading in polls for today's Wisconsin primary, the former Massachusetts governor no longer considers himself just another nominee, but the inevitable challenger to President Obama who must now start focusing on winning the race in November.

Unlike GOP challenger Rick Santorum, who spent over a week in the state making appearances in small towns, Romney dropped into just four counties and avoided standard photo-ops like bowling or eating bratwurst with locals, which is the bread-and-butter strategy of the Santorum campaign.

Instead, Romney is striking a more presidential tone, refusing to attack or even mention his opponents, and instead sticking to purely fiscal issues such as the economic prosperity, growing jobs, and health care. He is direct in his criticism of Mr. Obama but, unlike Mr. Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, his tone is less sanctimonious and more respectful.

“He did not cause the recession … but he was going to be the one who was going to end it,” Romney said of the president Monday.

Meanwhile in Washington, President Obama today let loose on both Romney and Ryan, with his first, all-out attack on Ryan's House GOP budget plan and, on Monday, his first television ad to go after Romney by name, targeting ties to Big Oil.

Romney appears eager to take up the fight.

“What he’s been talking about at those campaign stops has really been about President Obama. He no longer mentions Santorum and has changed his focus and is talking more about national issues,” says Arnold Shober, a political scientist at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.

It helps that Romney is also picking up endorsements from key figures in his party based in Wisconsin. Most top Republicans in this state – with the notable exception of GOP Governor Scott Walker – have explicitly lent Romney their support, including US Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced both Romney and Ryan Monday, and US Sen. Ron Johnson.

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