President Barack Obama, locked in a tight re-election bid, is emphasizing his incumbent's role for a third straight day, skipping campaign events in battleground states to visit victims of superstorm Sandy in New Jersey, a state he's confident of winning. The president's actions have forced his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, to walk a careful line and make tough choices.
The former Massachusetts governor must show respect for the superstorm's casualties all along the Eastern Seaboard. But Romney can ill afford to waste a minute of campaign time, with the contest virtually deadlocked in several key states and the election six days away.
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After tamping down his partisan tone Tuesday at an Ohio event that chiefly emphasized victims' relief, Romney planned three full-blown campaign rallies Wednesday in Florida, the largest competitive state. Sandy largely spared Florida, so Romney calculates he can campaign there without appearing callous.
Obama's campaign announced Wednesday he planned to resume campaign travel Thursday after a three-day pause to deal with superstorm Sandy with stops in Nevada, Colorado and Wisconsin.
Tree collapses in New York (Photo: Yishai Shaharbani)
Obama's revised schedule is a political gamble, too. Rather than use the campaign's final Wednesday to woo voters in the tossup states that will decide the election, he will go before cameras with New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie. Christie is one of Romney's most prominent supporters, and a frequent Obama critic. But Christie praised Obama's handling of the response to superstorm Sandy, a political twist the president's visit is sure to underscore.
Romney wavers in his strategy
Romney wavered in his strategy. First the campaign said he would skip a rally in Ohio on Tuesday out of sympathy for the storm victims. Then Romney decided to do the event but recast it as a storm-relief effort, shorn of the usual campaign speech.
Battery Park station flooded (Photo: AFP)
"It's part of the American spirit, the American way, to give to people in need," Romney told supporters in Kettering, Ohio, before they lined up to hand him bags of canned food for storm victims.
'It's part of the American spirit'
Adding to Romney's dilemma are the candidate's previous statements on the federal government's role in emergency management. He said he believes state and local governments should have primary responsibility for emergency cleanup, and refused Tuesday to answer repeated questions from reporters about what he would do with the Federal Emergency Management Agency if he wins the election.
Queens home after fire (Photo: Reuters)
Asked about federal aid to help recover and rebuild from Sandy, Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said: "A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need. Period."
Obama's response to disaster could make or break his bid
For Obama, missing a few days of active campaigning for vital presidential duties may be a good trade, politically speaking.
Atlantic City (Photo: AP)
Lingering anger about President George W. Bush's performance when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005 provides a backdrop that will benefit Obama if his administration does a solid job, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.
She said a natural disaster gives a sitting president "unlimited access to the media to say things the public wants and needs to hear in a fashion that reinforces that he is president."
For Obama, the federal response to the natural disaster could make or break his bid for a second term. His reputation could suffer if the federal government's response is feeble or botched.
Beached boat in storm (Photo: MTA)
While Obama and Romney moved cautiously Tuesday, their campaigns exchanged sharp words in the pivotal state of Ohio and expanded their operations into three Democratic-leaning states, a move that will reshape the contest's final six days.
Romney's campaign is running ads in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, and a pro-Romney group is doing the same in Michigan. The three states were considered fairly safe for Obama, but his campaign is taking the threat seriously. It sent former President Bill Clinton to Minnesota on Tuesday and it is buying airtime in all three states.
Romney desperately searching for last-minute path to victory?
The Republican efforts could indicate that Romney is desperately searching for a last-minute path to victory without all-important Ohio, where polls show Obama has a slight edge. Or it could mean just the opposite, that Romney's so confident in the most competitive battlegrounds that he's pressing for insurance against Obama in what's expected to be a close race.
Or perhaps the Republican simply has money to burn. Use it now or never.
The US president is chosen not by the nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests. That has made a handful of states whose voters are neither reliably Republican nor Democratic the focus of the Nov. 6 election, expected to be one of the closest in US history. Ohio and Florida are prominent among those, and no Republican has been elected president without winning Ohio.
Vice President Joe Biden planned to campaign Wednesday in Florida. Ryan was scheduled to campaign in his home state, Wisconsin.
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