) -- Expect there to be no more Mr. Nice Guy for Barack Obama this election season.

The president, whose historic 2008 campaign largely triumphed on the positive message of hope and change, will have to defend a still-struggling economy in 2012, and we've already seen a hint of what may come.

"Unlike his last campaign ... he has a record to run on," said Christopher Metzler, a conservative political analyst who teaches at Georgetown University. "Keep in mind that if the campaign is about Obama's record it is a much tougher campaign; if the campaign is about Mitt Romney and his lack of being able to connect ... then it's a much harder race for the Republicans."

Barack Obama's record as president is a mixed bag that includes 8.2% unemployment,

moderate economic growth, a strong manufacturing sector, an

abysmal housing sector and many other varying factors -- both positive and negative.

Just two days after Rick Santorum dropped out of the Republican primary race to all but guarantee Romney the nomination, a Democratic strategist said Romney's wife, Ann,

had never worked a day in her life nor dealt with economic issues that now face a majority of women.

Romney's campaign and the Republican National Committee exploded over the remarks and accused Democrats and the president for insulting stay-at-home mothers.

Obama's campaign manager and former White House senior advisor have both condemned the strategist, Hilary Rosen, in an attempt to distance the campaign as much as possible from the issue.

But the scrum for female voters ramped up after a poll showed Romney behind Obama by double-digit percentage points in the critical demographic. If Romney can't close that gap, he will likely lose the presidency in November.

Aware that he needs to court women voters -- especially after a heated primary battle forced him to become very conservative on key social issues -- Romney emailed reporters Tuesday with a stat that said women accounted for 92.3% of jobs lost during Obama's term.

Obama's campaign on Wednesday attacked Romney's campaign when it said it had to "get back to you on that" when a reporter asked if the former governor supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act that fights for equal pay.

"Women's pay equity isn't something that someone who wants to be president should need to 'think' about, not when working women across America who on average earn just 77 cents to every dollar that men earn for the same job," the Obama campaign wrote in a statement.

Central to this week's political rhetoric concerning women voters is the economy -- an issue that most strategists, economists and academics believe will decide the election.

"I think in November there's been a significant improvement in peoples' outlook on the economy ... and a very aggressive Republican primary that I think has all better positioned the president," said Billy Vassiliadis, a Nevada-based Democratic strategist who served as an operative for Obama's 2008 campaign. "They're not going to just let Karl Rove spend a bunch of money attacking the president without responding back."

Karl Rove runs the super PAC American Crossroads -- which had silently raised $26.9 million through February. Rove started on Friday to launch radio attacks against Obama in Ohio and Pennsylvania -- two swing states -- about the president's "efforts to effectively destroy the coal industry."

Obama-backing super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has raised just $6.5 million through February and has reportedly continued to struggle.

If Obama's campaign achieves another election of unmatched campaign fundraising, the onus would rest on his own team to counter attacks from super PACs like American Crossroads and Romney-supporting Restore Our Future with their own negative attacks against the Republican opponent.

A group that could dish out the dirty work is big labor, which Rove has said could raise as much as $500 million to support the president.

Wherever the money comes from, though, it appears that the incumbent president will have to, through his own facilities or a wealthy outside group, win this election by taking the focus off four years of economic results and guiding a negative narrative of Romney.

The Buffett Rule and women are issues that Obama has criticized Romney on already. And that's just in the first week of the race for the White House.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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