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Associated Press
Mitt Romney has begun to turn his attention more toward the general election.

Long primary saps Romney campaign

– Regardless of the outcome in today’s three Republican primaries – Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C. – the GOP front-runner is rapidly shifting toward the general election – and the challenges of President Obama’s better-financed and better-organized opposition.

These days, Mitt Romney is ignoring his Republican rivals and taking it to the Democratic president, whom he accused Monday of “crushing dreams” with a “government-centered society.”

Romney’s rhetoric aside, the grinding Republican primary, already 3 months old, has complicated his ability to re-focus his broader organization toward Obama. Aides concede that staff building and fundraising for the fall match-up are lagging.

Romney’s recent string of high-dollar California fundraisers was limited to raising money only for the Republican primary contests. Aides are only beginning to take steps to raise cash to use against Obama, who has been aggressively fundraising and distributed staff on the ground in almost every state in the nation.

The delay has given Obama a massive head start. The disparity is staggering.

At the end of February, Obama reported $84.7 million in his campaign account compared to Romney’s $7.3 million. Obama has more than 530 paid staff compared to roughly 100 for Romney.

For the fall campaign, Romney’s presidential hopes may rest, at least in part, upon the ability of the Republican National Committee to give him a running start. The RNC, beset by problems of its own in recent years, says it’s ready to meet the challenge. Yet party officials acknowledge limitations. General election fundraising in particular has suffered without a nominee.

Romney’s campaign has also been anxious to be able to raise money for the party itself when it holds finance events – donors can cut checks of up to $30,800 to the party committee.

But without the presidential nomination, they have not been able to request that money yet.

The complications extend beyond fundraising.

Wiley said the committee’s nationwide network of “victory centers” might not be fully operational until August unless a nominee secures the nomination soon.

Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson, said that even without the RNC’s help, the Romney campaign has built a network of donors, prominent supporters and voter files that will translate to the general election.

“You don’t go into Florida and bank as many early absentee votes and do what we did statewide without leaving behind a pretty good organization that’s still in place and will be there in a general election,” Beeson said. In Chicago, Obama’s team has 300 paid staffers already at work inside the president’s re-election headquarters. They’re anticipating a general election against Romney.