It's time to make youth unemployment the focus of our national attention (36211)

It’s about to be on.

Rick Santorum has left the presidential race. With his departure, he has mercifully taken his revolting, return-to-the-1940s, let’s-put-women-in-their-place brand of campaigning out of the public eye. Though Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul remain, they are at this point little more than irritating footnotes.

The fact is that the 2012 presidential campaign will now begin in earnest as a two-man race between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

That being the case, it’s now time for the Obama campaign to learn the vital lessons from the Republican primaries of the last few months and develop an effective playbook.

First and foremost, Romney will be well financed. This wealthy man, who touts his relationship with NASCAR owners and his wife’s Cadillacs, will not only have his own resources but the wealth of the Republican titans of industry who simply can’t stomach this Obama presidency. They will spend lavishly, with the expectation and desire that their dollars will unseat the president.

With the aid of marginally independent political action committees, Romney will have financial resources in his assault against Obama that will be utterly staggering. As Romney demonstrated in his campaign assault against Santorum, the former Massachusetts governor can truly dish it out–the president should anticipate a fusillade of vicious and venomous campaign ads.

As daunting as all this might seem, Obama should take comfort in the fact that Romney is simply not a credible candidate to much of his own party. With all the millions he spent against Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania gave Romney a run for his endless stream of money, all with a campaign that spent little to nothing and operated with a bare-bones organization.

Then there is the matter of political philosophy. Obama should certainly recognize that Romney is a man with a breathtaking lack of any core principles. He has shamelessly changed his position on every significant public policy issue of our time. He even assails the president for a health care plan that was essentially the very plan that Romney himself championed as governor of Massachusetts.

As strong an upper hand as Obama may have on the issues–and the score won’t even be close–the president has to recognize that Romney’s campaign will be the rallying point for the legions of Americans who harbor strong antipathy toward the nation’s first African-American president. Obama needs only to highlight his firm, consistent views on the economy, the need for the wealthy to pay their fair share, the need for all Americans to have quality health care and the importance of protecting women’s rights to make their own health decisions.

So for now, Obama needs to continue to raise money to meet the Romney onslaught tit for tat. But more than that, he must be willing to take on his Republican rival with a firmness that will state the case for his own presidency with power.

While Romney will surely center his focus on some of the still-sputtering aspects of the nation’s economy and escalating gas prices, Obama will need to tout his successes in health care, the rebirth of the automobile industry and his internationally renowned triumphs in foreign policy, not least of which is the demise of Osama bin Laden.

Beyond that, he should burnish the image in the minds of the American public of an administration that perceives and treats women as people who should have the sole command over their health care and reproductive choices. If he does all of that, he should be in position to conduct an effective campaign that will truly highlight the stark and unambiguous differences between these two leaders.