LAS VEGAS, Nevada—Five days out from the US election, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney began their final frenzied dash across America on Thursday, offering closing presidential arguments to the faithful and the undecided.
After a rare political truce that allowed Obama to preside over federal response to this week’s Superstorm “Sandy,” which killed dozens and devastated parts of the Eastern seaboard, the candidates stopped pulling their punches and reengaged for the final round of their heavyweight presidential bout.
Obama dashed to Wisconsin, Nevada and then Colorado, while his challenger hit up voters in Virginia. Both converge on the critical battleground of Ohio on Friday.
Addressing a crowd in Las Vegas, Nevada, Obama praised citizens for coming together in the wake of the storm and urged voters to give him four more years in office.
“Even in the midst of tragedy, the situation on the East Coast has also inspired, because it reminds us that when disaster strikes, we see America at its best,” he said.
“All the petty differences that consume us in normal times somehow melt away. There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm, just fellow Americans—leaders of different parties working to fix what’s broken.”
Obama’s take-charge, cross-party approach to storm relief has done him no harm in his reelection bid, and he understandably dwelled on the recovery efforts during his various campaign stops.
But with the race on a knife edge, the nods to “Kumbaya” bipartisanship from both candidates—Romney spoke of the need to reach across the political aisle for major accomplishments—are likely to fade in the intense whirlwind finale of a bitter and often-brutal campaign.
‘It isn’t change’
Obama quickly hammered his White House challenger for seeking to pluck the “change” mantle from the president.
“Now, in the closing weeks of this campaign, Governor Romney has been using all his talents as a salesman to dress up these very same policies that failed our country so badly, the very same policies we’ve been cleaning up after for the past four years—and he is offering them up as change,” Obama said in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“What the governor is offering sure ain’t change. Getting more power back to the biggest banks isn’t change. Leaving millions without health insurance isn’t change.”
Blip on the radar
Romney, struggling to avoid becoming a blip on the radar after being sidelined by Sandy, made three stops in battleground Virginia, where he sought to refocus the race on his strongest argument: The sluggish economy.
“I know the Obama folks are chanting ‘four more years,’” Romney told supporters in Roanoke, Virginia. “But our chant is this: ‘Five more days!’”
With Romney’s team confident it can score at least a few upset victories in Democrat-leaning states, his campaign said the Republican would stump for votes in Pennsylvania on Sunday, just 48 hours before election day.
Pennsylvania has been in Obama’s column for months, with the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls showing the incumbent up 4.6 percentage points in the large, eastern state.
But Romney aides dismiss polls as giving an incomplete picture in many states where they feel the challenger has built recent momentum that could deliver a stronger-than-expected turnout.
Romney ridiculed Obama for announcing this week that he wanted to create a “secretary of business,” something the multimillionaire businessman said would do nothing to turn the economy around.
“We don’t need a secretary of business to understand business; we need a president who understands business, and I do,” Romney said.
Much of the national discussion still focused on the storm and its aftermath.
Six million homes and businesses remained without power, and entire communities up and down the coast remained flooded or cut off after the storm, which left at least 85 people dead across 15 states.
In New York, the subway resumed limited service after the worst disaster in the system’s 108-year history, but the Big Apple was split in half, with much of the lower Manhattan financial district still flooded and off the grid.
But for millions, their communities had the eerie feel and look of disaster areas—and US military cargo planes flew dozens of heavy trucks and a team of specialists to New York to help.
Obama earned the endorsement of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an ex-Republican, and of The Economist newsweekly.
Bloomberg said the president’s efforts on climate change and his command during the storm crisis outweighed his failure on the economy. (See story on this page.)
The London-based Economist, meanwhile, endorsed Obama’s campaign on Thursday.
The Economist, with a circulation of 1.57 million, said it was backing Obama with less enthusiasm than four years ago, but noted that Romney “does not fit the bill.”