General Election, Game On (The Note)

(Image Credit: Chris Kleponis/AFP/Getty Images; Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

Mitt Romney knows the gender gap is real.

With a fresh ABC News-Washington Post poll out this week showing Romney losing registered female voters to President Obama by a 57 to 38 percent margin, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee yesterday trotted out a new statistic.

He said that 92.3 percent of all the jobs lost since President Obama took office were held by women.

"The president is so out of touch, I don't think he knew that number," Romney said at a Delaware steel company. "And if he did, he probably would have sad that his administration has been a great success. He says he's not only done a good job, he says he's done a great job even with 92.3 percent of the job losses being women. He thinks he's done a great job - a historically great job. And he did not say that on 'Saturday Night Live.'"

Romney acknowledged at the same event that "this has been a good day" - a reference to rival Rick Santorum's decision to drop out of the presidential race. But Romney won't be able to bask in the glow for very long. Now that he is all but officially the Republican standard-bearer there are only tougher days ahead.

And already Romney's coming under fire for his 92.3 percent data point. The independent fact-checking web site, Politifact, called the former Massachusetts governor's claim "mostly false" and the Obama campaign pushed back hard.

"The economy was hemorrhaging 750,000 jobs a month when President Obama took office," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith. "Because of the President's policies we've since seen 25 straight months of job growth and 4 million jobs- including over 1 million for women- created in the private sector."

Meanwhile, at a fundraiser in Florida, President Obama offered up his own comparison.

"This election will probably have the biggest contrast that we've seen maybe since the Johnson-Goldwater election - maybe before that," Obama said without mentioning Romney by name. And his re-election campaign sought to point out those contrasts in a new web video out this morning recounting some of what they see as Romney's "greatest hits" from the primary. WATCH:

A day after Romney's "good day" - perhaps his best all year long - he and his campaign team will have to steel themselves for the blunt force trauma of the Obama campaign's efforts.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: ABC's Jake Tapper weighed in on "Good Morning America" today about how the GOP front-runner's campaign has shifted its focus to the general election. WATCH:


SANTORUM CALLS IT QUITS.  Rick Santorum suspended his presidential campaign yesterday in a speech to supporters in his home state. The announcement came the day after Santorum's 3-year-old daughter Bella was released from the hospital - her second trip this year. Bella suffers from a rare, and often fatal, disorder called Trisomy 18. "This was a time for prayer and thought over this past weekend," Santorum said. "Just like it was when we decided to get into this race… we were very concerned about our role of being the best parents we possibly could to our kids," Santorum said of the kitchen-table discussion with his family before he launched his campaign. Santorum said he balanced his desire to be a good father with his desire to do something positive for the country. He mentioned Bella and her condition as one of the reasons he joined the race - to look out for Americans like her, who he said are "left behind." "While this presidential campaign is over for me, we are going to continue fighting for those voices," Santorum told a sedate crowd in Gettysburg, Pa.

WHY NOW? Santorum's decision to cut short his quest for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday came after an intense weekend of thought, prayer and conference calls, ABC's Michael Falcone, Shushannah Walshe and Arlette Saenz report. According to top sources in the campaign, the former Pennsylvania senator did not reach his decision until late Monday night after a series of conversations with his family and closest aides. His choice to end his bid exactly two weeks to the day before the April 24 Pennsylvania primary came down two major considerations: First, the Santorum campaign came to terms with the fact that Texas was never going to become a winner-take-all primary, likely denying them a huge treasure chest of more than 150 delegates they hoped would help narrow the gap with Romney on the delegate scoreboard. Second, Newt Gingrich showed no signs of exiting the race completely any time soon, the Santorum team concluded. They felt that they needed Gingrich's endorsement and a large portion of his delegates to catch up to Romney. "Rick is smart, he's level headed," Santorum's national communications director Hogan Gidley said in an interview with ABC News. He said that his candidate ultimately reached the conclusion: "If there's no path, if there aren't the delegates, then there's no reason to keep going."

Gidley said that this realization combined with a prayerful Easter weekend and the hospitalization of Santorum's three-year-old daughter, Bella, all led Santorum to step in front of a television cameras in Gettysburg, Pa. Tuesday afternoon and announce that "this presidential race for us is over." Santorum's decision, however, was not meant to be an escape route to avoid a potentially humiliating loss in Pennsylvania six years after he failed to win re-election to a U.S. Senate seat there, multiple aides said. "One thing we did feel, we felt pretty darn confident about winning Pennsylvania," said the campaign's chief strategist John Brabender. Brabender said the campaign had television commercials ready to go and county coordinators ready to be deployed. But the Romney campaign was ready too. They were poised to launch an all-out air war against Santorum, having reserved more than $2.2 million of airtime on television stations across the state starting this week.

WHERE DO SANTORUM'S DELEGATES GO? ABC's Delegate Whisperer Chris Good crunches the numbers: Santorum has 285 delegates, according to the latest ABC News delegate estimate, second to Mitt Romney's 661. But some of those delegates were never really "his."  ABC estimates that 78 Santorum delegates, from his wins in states that don't "award" their delegates - Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, and North Dakota, would have been free to support any candidate at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. That leaves 188 Santorum delegates heading to Tampa. They'll be required to vote for him, unless he chooses to release them, according to state-party rules. Even if Santorum endorses Romney, that doesn't mean he can gift all of his delegates to his former rival.  Should Santorum elect to release his delegates, they'll become free agents, able to support whichever candidate they choose. If he does release them, will he receive any votes on the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum? Maybe a few. Mike Huckabee received no votes in St. Paul, Minn., after releasing his delegates. Mitt Romney received two votes, having dropped out two days after Super Tuesday in 2008. Ron Paul, the last man standing against John McCain, who held his own shadow convention as McCain was being crowned, received 20 votes at the Xcel Center, despite failing to qualify for the convention ballot. Romney, who also did not qualify for the ballot, received two votes.


DEMOCRATS 'WELCOME' ROMNEY TO CONNECTICUT AND BAIT LINDA MCMAHON. The Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, is bracketing Mitt Romney's campaign stop in Hartford, Connecticut today with this question: "Will Linda McMahon embrace Mitt Romney's extreme positions?" American Bridge senior adviser, Ty Matsdorf penned five questions for McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment chief who is running again for a U.S. Senate seat in the state: "1) Does she agree with Gov Romney that the Ryan plan is marvelous? 2) Does she agree with Gov Romney that the DREAM Act should not be enacted into law? 3) Does she agree with Gov Romney that Don't Ask Don't Tell shouldn't have been repealed? 4) Does she agree with Gov Romney that same sex marriage should be illegal? 5) Does she agree with Gov Romney who whole heartedly supported the Blunt amendment on contraception?" In a statement, Matsdorf said, "Linda McMahon must come clean with the voters in Connecticut about her support for Governor Romney and his extreme positions."


OBAMA CALLS FOR TAXES ON WEALTHY TO BOOST MIDDLE CLASS. Against a backdrop of electrified young voters in a state critical to his re-election, President Obama today delivered a politically-charged argument for higher taxes on the wealthy in a push to galvanize his support among the middle class, according to ABC's Devin Dwyer. Obama's speech, billed as a policy address at Florida Atlantic University, doubled down on his economic case for a second term, which he explained favors boosting social programs that benefit the middle-income Americans in sharp contrast with Republicans' proposals to spur growth through upper-income tax cuts alone. "Investments in things like education and research and health care, they haven't been made as some grand scheme to redistribute wealth from one group to another," Obama told a crowd inside a packed gymnasium. "This is not some socialist dream." "They have been made by Democrats and Republicans for generations because they benefit all of us," he said, "and they lead to strong and durable economic growth." Obama compared Republicans' budget plans to a "science experiment" that was tried and failed during the eight years before he took office.

GOP CIRCLES THE WAGONS AROUND ROMNEY. ABC's Emily Friedman reports: With Rick Santorum out of the race, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and several other high ranking Republicans endorsed Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee, saying that he looks forward to supporting the candidate "in retiring President Obama." Jindal, who previously backed former presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, endorsed Romney just hours after former Sen. Santorum suspended his presidential campaign. Jindal, whose name is already being floated as a potential Vice Presidential candidate, joined several other Republican leaders in endorsing Romney on the same day that Santorum dropped out. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey endorsed Romney, urging others to do the same. "I am proud to endorse Governor Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee for president," he said. "I am confident Gov. Romney will be a great president and will return our country to the conservative principles that make our nation great." Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who had also not made an endorsement before today, backed Romney not even an hour after Santorum dropped his bid.

SANTORUM REFLECTS ON THE HARDSHIP OF A HARD-FOUGHT PRIMARY. As he wrapped up the day that he ended his presidential campaign, Rick Santorum reflected on the impact his decision to run for president had on his family, saying the experience was always more trying on his family members than himself, notes ABC's Arlette Saenz. "Karen and four of the kids were there," Santorum said of his withdrawal from the race Tuesday during an event at Lancaster Bible College Tuesday evening. "I can't say it was an emotional moment for me. I know it's a little tougher for the family, always is tougher for the family." Santorum said throughout the campaign he asked people to pray for his family because "they're the ones that bear the brunt. You're out there in the arena and your adrenaline's flowing - you're getting hit and hitting back and you're sort of going back and forth. It's different than being on the sidelines and seeing the people, the person that you love, getting hit. It hurts more. And so it was a little tougher for Karen and the kids. They did an amazing job as they always have in standing behind me in every sense of the word."

SIGN OF THE TIMES: GINGRICH'S UTAH PRIMARY CHECK BOUNCES. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich may not appear on the ballot for the June 26 Utah primary, after a $500 check - the required filing fee - bounced, an official said, ABC's Elicia Dover reports. State election director Mark Thomas told ABC News that a $500 check given by the Gingrich campaign to secure his place on the Utah ballot bounced on March 27. "Our office immediately attempted to contact the campaign and the designated agent but no phone calls were returned," Thomas said. "We also asked the state Republican Party to assist us, but they also could not get into communication with them, although I do not know how they attempted to contact them." One source close to the campaign told ABC News that the Gingrich campaign recently changed finance and accounting staff. The designated agent who filed the paperwork for the campaign was Wallace Woodruff "Woody" Hales, though Hales still works for the Gingrich campaign. If the fee is not paid by April 20, Gingrich will be disqualified from the ballot.

NOTED: Yesterday, Gingrich said that he survived the Santorum surge. "Obviously we would like to get his delegates and frankly, on values and on conservatism, I am much closer to Senator Santorum's delegates than Governor Romney is." Gingrich also said Santorum's exit "probably clears some space for me to be heard more clearly and more decisively." He also once again vowed to go "all the way to Tampa."

HILLARY LOVES 'TEXTS FROM HILLARY' Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has posted real life "Texts from Hillary," her response to a blog that features fictional texts from Clinton to various famous people, notes ABC's Dana Hughes. The Tumblr blog Texts From Hillary paired pictures of famous people (everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Oprah) using their phones with a shot of Clinton reading a blackberry and wondered at amusing things they could be texting about. And Clinton's texts to the site yesterday, a back and forth with the men responsible for the site, Stacy Lambe and Adam Smith, was a humorous attempt to become a willing part of the joke. "Sup Adam. Nice Selfie Stace :-)" the Secretary wrote, according to a new posting at "OMG Busted," Smith replies in the image. "sry Hillz," Lambe texted back. "ROFL @ ur tumblr! G2g-Scrunchie time. Ttyl?" Replied Hillary The bottom of the exchange reads, "A submission from Secretary Hillary Clinton."



@MattMackowiak : FYI: My Wed op ed in the  @WashTimes on the revitalization of the RNC ( @GOP) serving as the secret weapon in 2012 -

@kakukowski : Day Two: The Buffett Ruse. Op-ed from  @GOP Chairman  @Reince  #BuffettRule



by ABC's Chris Good

-Ron Paul Draws a Big Crowd at Texas A&M. On Wednesday, Ron Paul's college supporters didn't seem to care about Mitt Romney's perceived inevitability: Paul drew 3,000 in an appearance at Texas A&M, where he was greeted warmly and delivered a "typical stump speech" that touched on the Fed, the deficit, and the U.S. military, The Eagle reports.

-Inquirer: Pennsylvania Primary No Longer Matters. With Rick Santorum's exit, what was previously the most anticipated contest set for April 24 has been rendered meaningless, the Philadelphia Inquirer writes in an editorial: "…the outcome of Pennsylvania's April 24 primary will be moot. Neither this state's voters, nor New Jersey's, whose primary isn't until June 5, will have a say in deciding the GOP nominee." Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, and New York will also vote on April 24.

-PA Elected Officials Praise Santorum. While Rick Santorum didn't have unanimous backing among Pennsylvania politicos, they had kind words for the former senator after he announced the end of his campaign in Gettysburg. "I think whoever the nominee is-probably Mitt Romney-will be a better candidate because of Rick Santorum being in the race," said state Sen. Jake Corman, a longtime friend of Santorum. "I have told many people, do not underestimate Rick Santorum," Gov. Tom Corbett told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "His perseverance is amazing. And he does have a distinct following in the more conservative elements of the party."



@JHoganGidley : "We will not stop fighting. There's a lot of greatness in this country - we need leaders who know that."  @RickSantorum

@woodhouseb : . @MittRomney must feel good 2 have cast aside 1 of the weakest/most inept fields in modern times after carpet bombing them w/negative ads

@karen_langley : With Santorum gone, the front page Pittsburgh readers are waking up to

@tomfitzgerald : Rick Santorum augers in: analysis of rise and fall of a passionate candidate.

@jmartpolitico : . @jonward11 is right: Santo had a chance, but couldn't rein self in, stick to msg for broader electorate



-Mitt Romney campaigns in Hartford, Conn. and Warwick, R.I.

- Newt Gingrich makes stops in Newark and Dover, Del.

- Ron Paul holds a town hall meeting in Fort Worth, Tex

-ABC's Joanna Suarez

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