Obama visits storm victims with top criticAssociated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, locked in a tight re-election bid, is joining with one of his top Republican critics Wednesday to visit victims of superstorm Sandy, giving Americans a high-profile display of presidential leadership while leaving rival Mitt Romney awkwardly on the sidelines less than a week before Election Day.
Obama will visit New Jersey, the state hardest hit by the storm which devastated much of the northeastern United States, accompanied by Gov. Chris Christie. The governor has been one of Romney’s most prominent supporters, but has been effusive in his praise of Obama’s response to the storm.
Though Obama has officially suspended campaigning for three days and New Jersey is safe Democratic territory, the tour with Christie offers him clear electoral advantages. Obama can appear to be in command, directing US aid and showing his concern about the storm’s victims. Romney, meanwhile, must walk a careful line. Aggressive attacks on Obama could appear unseemly during a national crisis. Yet he is running out of time to make his case to voters ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Polls show the candidates virtually tied. But the winner will be determined in state-by-state votes and a handful of states that are not clearly Democratic or Republican will determine the outcome. For the moment, Obama appears to have a slight lead in the state tallies.
Obama’s campaign announced Wednesday he planned to resume campaign travel Thursday after a three-day pause with stops in Nevada, Colorado and Wisconsin.
The president’s actions have forced 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.
After tamping down his partisan tone Tuesday at an Ohio event that chiefly emphasized disaster relief, Romney returned to a robust campaign message in events in Florida, the largest competitive state. Sandy largely spared Florida, so Romney calculates he can campaign there without appearing callous.
“This is quite a time for the country. We’re going through trauma in a major part of the country, the kind of trauma you’ve experienced here in Florida more than once,” Romney said and encouraged donations to the Red Cross. He then launched into a critique of Obama’s leadership in tough economic times and said he would do better.
“I don’t just talk about change. I actually have a plan to execute change and make it happen,” Romney told about 2,000 people gathered in a hangar at Tampa’s airport.
Throughout the race for the White House, Romney’s shifting stances on a number of key issues have haunted his campaign. After superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast, Romney was sounding far more supportive of Federal government assistance to states ravaged by the natural disaster. Only last year, as Romney hewed to the right while battling for the Republican nomination, he appeared to suggest in a debate that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) should be shuttered and its responsibilities left to the states.
He sounded a different message on Wednesday.
“I believe that Fema plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” Romney said in a statement supplied by his campaign. “As president, I will ensure Fema has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters.”
He issued those remarks after ducking a series of opportunities Tuesday to personally clarify his position. The position put forward Wednesday essentially endorsed the current disaster aid system.
Obama left Wednesday’s sharp-elbowed politicking to Vice President Joe Biden, who accused Romney of perpetrating “an outrageous lie” in an ad airing in Ohio that suggests Obama’s policies are shipping Jeep manufacturing to China. Biden told Florida voters that the ads are “scurrilous” and “one of the most flagrantly dishonest ads I can ever remember in my career,” which stretches more than 40 years.
Romney’s campaign has stood by the ad, which also was criticized by auto executives. “Their comments don’t refute anything in our ad,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
For Obama, missing a few days of active campaigning for vital presidential duties may be a good trade, politically speaking.
To the independent and undecided voters sick of the political swampland of Washington, Obama appears bipartisan and positively unconcerned about his own political fate. His best friend is suddenly a prominent Romney supporter, Christie.
“The president has been all over this, and he deserves great credit,” Christie, a Republican, gushed in a TV interview. By contrast, when Christie was asked whether Romney was coming to help, he said, “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested.”
Although Obama’s reputation could suffer if the federal government’s response is feeble or botched, there may be little time to make such assessments with Election Day a week away. And there is a risk of appearing to politicize tragedy if Romney speaks up too soon.