Washington – After three days immersed in managing the federal response to the storm that battered the East Coast, President Barack Obama is heading back on the campaign trail with only five days left before election day. Republican challenger Mitt Romney started back campaigning earlier this week, but is now fully on the trail again as the race tightens.
The president's advisers insist his break from campaigning had minimal impact on his standing. If anything, it gave Obama a chance to offer the type of comfort and command in a crisis that only a president can deliver.
Still, the Democratic campaign is seeking to make up for the lost time with a heavy travel itinerary in the coming days, including rallies Thursday in Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado. Obama's remarks Thursday will focus on boosting middle-class security, the key message the campaign is expected to push in the final days of the race.
Obama spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said that while the president remains focused on the storm recovery, "there is a reality of a political election happening in five days and he will return to the trail to make the case to the American people on why they should send him back for four more years."
Before traveling to Wisconsin, Obama was to hold a storm briefing at the White House with Federal Emergency Management Agency head Craig Fugate and other administration officials. The White House said Obama would stay in touch with Fugate throughout the day to coordinate on recovery efforts. The president also planned to hold conference calls while traveling with local elected officials from affected areas.
The storm created headaches for Romney, diverting the public's attention away from the campaign as he was trying to build momentum. It also forced the Republican challenger to temper some of his harshest critiques of the president to avoid looking insensitive as people coped with the impact of Superstorm Sandy.
The partisan sniping continued this week from the candidates' surrogates and their running mates. Much of it focused on Romney's new television and radio ads in critical Ohio suggesting automakers General Motors and Chrysler are adding jobs in China at the expense of workers in the Midwestern swing state. Vice President Joe Biden said the spots were among "the most flagrantly dishonest ads I can ever remember."
Obama's campaign planned to keep pressing its criticism of the ads as it seeks to block Romney's prospects for a breakthrough in Ohio, a state every Republican has needed to win the presidency.
The Republican ticket hasn't backed away from the ad. Running mate Paul Ryan said in a statement, "American taxpayers are on track to lose $25 billion as a result of President Obama's handling of the auto bailout, and GM and Chrysler are expanding their production overseas."
In fact, Chrysler is adding 1,100 jobs to its plant in Toledo. It's also adding production facilities in China as demand for cars there grows. Because of trade rules, it's easier for companies to build cars for the Chinese market in China. It's also more efficient. Japanese automakers, for example, have plants in the U.S. to meet American demand.
Romney was campaigning Thursday in Virginia, while Ryan was appearing at events in Nevada and Colorado.
Ahead of campaign events in Virginia, Romney released a Web video highlighting a decades-old barbecue chain in Richmond that's shutting its doors. "When President Obama took office there was a lot of hope that things were going to change. Well, he didn't change anything," a woman connected to the business says in the video.
The Obama campaign released a new ad touting former Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent endorsement of Obama. It will run in 10 states, including Minnesota.
Obama's return to the campaign begins in Green Bay, Wis., where he'll make up an event that was canceled earlier in the week because of the storm. He had a rally planned later in Las Vegas, as well as an event in Boulder, Colo., a heavily Democratic area. Aides said Obama planned to mention the storm victims in his remarks.
Biden had two events scheduled in Iowa.
More than 19 million people have already voted in the presidential election, either by mail or in person. No votes will be counted until Nov. 6, but some key states are releasing the party affiliation of those who have voted.
Democrats have an edge in votes cast in Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio. Republicans have an advantage in Colorado.
Romney is popping up more in other Republican candidates' ads as both parties press their closing arguments in closely contested Senate races.
President Barack Obama continues to be referenced in negative ads aimed at boosting GOP candidates. His own party's Senate hopefuls are keeping their distance from the president, turning to Bill Clinton when they feel the need for a presidential embrace.
The tactics reflect that a huge part of this year's battle for control of the Senate is being waged in conservative-leaning states such as Montana, North Dakota, Arizona and Indiana, where the candidates are hoping Romney's uptick in polls will propel their candidacies as well.
"The stakes are high, Montana. I urge you to send Denny to the Senate and we'll get America back on track," Romney says in the latest ad from Republican Denny Rehberg. Romney cut a similar ad for Senate candidate Jeff Flake of Arizona and had already appeared in a spot for Republican Richard Mourdock of Indiana.
Some outside groups also are incorporating the presidential race into their final Senate ads.
"With Mitt Romney as president, we can get our country back on track, but not with Heidi Heitkamp in the Senate," says the latest ad in North Dakota from Crossroads GPS, started by former George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove. The group is hoping its ads will help Republican Rick Berg prevail.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.