Obama front and center in storm crisis as Romney subdued - Reuters
1 of 7. U.S. President Barack Obama visits the FEMA headquarters following Hurricane Sandy in Washington, October 31, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed
By Mark Felsenthal
ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey | Wed Oct 31, 2012 8:19pm EDT
ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - In a close and bitterly fought campaign for president, it was a day of contrasts: President Barack Obama joined New Jersey's Republican governor to tour storm-ravaged areas, while election rival Mitt Romney was relegated to a subdued day of rallies in Florida.
The devastation wrought by mammoth storm Sandy allowed Obama to project an image of a president in charge at a time of crisis. Tied in polls six days before the election, he is fighting to gain an edge over Republican Romney whose recent momentum may be slowing.
The Democrat took a helicopter tour of the damage in New Jersey with Governor Chris Christie, a high-profile Romney supporter who has nevertheless praised Obama lavishly in the last two days for expediting federal storm relief.
With Christie at his side, Obama promised quick federal aid.
"We're not going to tolerate red tape, we're not going to tolerate bureaucracy," he said.
In unusually warm remarks, Christie again lauded Obama.
"It's really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that's going on here in New Jersey and I appreciate it very much," he said, later thanking the president for his "compassion."
His comments were all the more remarkable given that Christie, normally a hard-nosed partisan, was the keynote speaker at the Republican convention in August and has often accompanied Romney at rallies.
Obama clung to a slender lead in most of the swing states that will decide who captures the 270 electoral votes needed to win.
He scrapped three days of campaign events this week to deal with the storm, a move that may in fact improve his standing with voters. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found eight in 10 voters gave Obama an "excellent" or "good" rating for his handling of the emergency.
Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden, asked by reporters whether he agreed with Christie that Obama was doing a good job handling the hurricane response, said: "I believe the response is still going on so I'm not in a position to qualify the response by the federal government. I believe it's still ongoing."
Visiting the swing state of Florida, Romney had to tone down his remarks for a second consecutive day in order to avoid appearing too political after the storm that crippled transportation, knocked out power for millions and killed 64 people on the eastern seaboard.
Rather than blasting Obama for what he typically calls failures to turn around the economy, Romney did not mention his rival's name, instead saying a change in course is needed and that he would bring Americans together if elected.
"Look, we can't go on the road we're on, we can't change course in America if we keep on attacking each other. We have got to come together," he said in Coral Gables.
POLLS TIGHT, SLIGHT OBAMA EDGE
Sandy forced the presidential race into a deep freeze, just as Romney was gathering steam in the last leg toward the November 6 Romney.
Both campaigns will be back in full swing on Thursday when Romney travels to Virginia and Obama begins a two-day trip to Colorado, Ohio and Nevada.
A Reuters/Ipsos national online tracking survey, like most other similar polls, found the race effectively tied, with Obama on 47 percent to 46 percent for Romney.
The rivals were also neck and neck in four of the most hotly contested states, but Obama holds a slight advantage in two of them. The online Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Obama leading by 3 percentage points in Ohio and 2 points in Virginia. The two are dead even in Florida, and Romney leads by 1 percentage point in Colorado.
Another poll, by Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS News, showed Obama with slight leads within the margin of error in Virginia and Florida, and a 5-point edge over Romney in the vital battleground of Ohio.
A Romney loss in Ohio would make his electoral math very difficult, and his campaign has aired new ads in recent days in Democratic-leaning Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan in an effort to put those states in play.
Recent polls have shown all three states tightening in what the Romney camp calls a sign of momentum. The Obama campaign said the move to expand the electoral map was a sign of desperation but launched its own ads in those states to counter Romney.
"There is a growing recognition on the other side that Ohio is fading away. There is no battleground state where they can be comfortable," said Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. "They are looking for opportunities."
Romney aides noted that Obama's levels of support still did not reach 50 percent in most swing states, a bad sign for an incumbent, and said that Romney had opened up leads with independent voters who will make the difference.
Romney adviser Madden said the Republican's campaign still believed it would win Ohio and called the moves into the three new states a positive sign.
"Where we feel most confident is that we're playing offense with the map whereas they're playing defense," he told reporters. "We feel like we're really well positioned now."
Obama's support for the 2009 auto bailout has helped him in Ohio, where one in eight jobs is tied to the car industry. The Obama camp continued to hammer Romney for his recent claim that Chrysler planned to move Jeep production out of Ohio to China - a charge refuted on Tuesday by Chrysler's chief executive.
The two campaigns have aired dueling advertisements on the issue, and Vice President Joe Biden took up the cause on a visit to Sarasota, Florida.
"It's an outrageous lie, a lie that is so deceptive and so patently untrue that Chrysler Corporation, including the chairman of the board of Chrysler, they actually spoke up," Biden said, adding the Romney campaign was trying to "scare the living devil" out of auto workers in Ohio.
Romney's running mate, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, countered that American taxpayers would lose $25 billion because of Obama's handling of the auto bailout and that Chrysler and General Motors were expanding overseas production.
"These are facts voters deserve to know as they listen to the claims President Obama and his campaign are making," Ryan said in a statement. "President Obama has chosen not to run on the facts of his record, but he can't run from them."
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Florida, Lisa Lambert in Florida, Samuel P. Jacobs in Wisconsin; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)