Mitt Romney finally clinched the Republican nomination on Tuesday, by clearing the benchmark of 1,444 delegates.
"The most important thing is, can Mitt Romney begin to articulate a more positive vision? We didn't see that during the primaries. He ran the most negative campaign in the history of American politics and the primaries. There was almost no affirmative statement about where he was going to take the country ... we are still waiting to see that part of the Romney campaign."
- Simon Rosenberg, a former adviser to Bill Clinton
Even though polling day is more than five months away, the general election campaign has already been in full swing for weeks, with both campaigns running a litany of attack ads.
Barack Obama's campaign has focused on Mitt Romney's career with the private equity firm Bain Capital, arguing it acted like a vampire, sucking the life out of companies and destroying jobs.
And Romney's campaign has run equally tough adverts highlighting what they would deem the failures of the Obama presidency.
Some on the right of the Republican Party, including Donald Trump, are also trying to reignite the so-called birther controversy, arguing that there are doubts that Obama was born in the US.
All of this, of course, feeds the unrelenting American news cycle, as the news anchors chew over the latest controversies with little examination of policy.
When Obama was elected in 2008 many thought his presidency would hail a new kind of politics - so what happened to hope and change?
"He [Romney] has come out to be very strong .... He has released a big education proposal right now ... he had a huge economic plan that Santorum and others were trying to mirror ... so this is not a lack of thoughtfulness or direction of where he wants to go as a nominee."
- Chris Henick, a Republican strategist
During the Republican primary campaign, the Democrats were almost making fun of the Republican candidates, saying that none of those candidates were any match for Obama, yet now the presidential race is very close.
The Real Clear Politics website has averaged seven recent national polls, giving Obama, with the support of 45.9 per cent of registered voters, a 2.3 per cent lead over Romney's 43.6 per cent.
And this lead widens to nearly five per cent in the battleground state of Ohio, with Obama at 47.2 per cent and Romney at 42.3 per cent.
But in another key state - Florida - Romney at 45.3 per cent has a narrow, half-point lead over Obama at 44.8 per cent.
So with the 2012 campaign in full swing are Obama and Romney both running campaigns based on fear? Are the campaigns being overly negative? And what is the best approach to win in November?
Inside Story US 2012, with presenter Anand Naidoo, discusses with guests: Simon Rosenberg, a former adviser to Bill Clinton and founder of the New Democrat Network; Chris Henick, a Republican strategist who served in the White House under George W Bush; and John Nichols, the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine.
"There's no question that this is going to be one of the most negative campaigns in American history .... What's different about this one is that the Obama team, which is very professional, has learned from the past and they have learned that if you go soft against a hard-charging opponent, an opponent who is going to have a lot of money, perhaps even a money advantage ... you can be defined out of the game."
John Nichols, the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine
FACTS ABOUT THE US 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS:
- Mitt Romney has clinched the Republican presidential nomination
- Romney now has 1,191 delegates, enough to secure nomination
- 1,144 delegates are required to win nomination at the Republican convention
- Polls show Barack Obama has a narrow lead over Mitt Romney
- Obama campaign website ads slam Romney's past business decisions, targeting his role as CEO of Bain Capital
- Political insiders question the wisdom of negative campaigns
- Obama campaigned in 2008 on a platform of hope and change
- Romney has criticised Obama's record, saying Americans are not better off under his presidency
- The Obama campaign seeks to focus on successes, like the death of Osama bin Laden