The reek of rhetorical gunpowder hung over Washington last night as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama abruptly hurled themselves into the 2012 battle for the White House regardless of the lingering presence of other rivals for the Republican Party nomination.
The sense of the nomination contest fading into the background and the general election firing up took hold as Mr Romney defeated his main rival, Rick Santorum, in primary elections in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington DC on Tuesday and lengthened his delegate lead. Mr Santorum yesterday ignored calls to drop out.
If Mr Romney is straining to shake off his primary challengers and concentrate his energies on winning in November, then Mr Obama is ready, as demonstrated by a speech he delivered in Washington on Tuesday that for the first time showed him in undisguised re-election mode.
He flayed Mr Romney for backing a draft budget written by Republicans in Congress that aims to strip away social supports to reduce the deficit. "He even called it marvellous," he snipped. Painting Mr Romney as effete, the President said marvellous was "a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing a budget... It's a word you don't often hear generally."
Both men are tracing what they think the race will be about; more government versus less. "The president has pledged to 'transform America', and he has spent the last four years laying the foundation for a new government-centred society," Mr Romney said before leaving Wisconsin. "I will spend the next four years rebuilding the foundation of our Opportunity Society, led by free people and free enterprises."
Among those urging Mr Santorum to throw in the towel was former candidate John McCain, saying it was "time for a graceful exit". But Mr Santorum was looking towards the Pennsylvania primary on 24 April, where he should have a home-state advantage.