WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama dives back into campaigning after three days immersed in managing the federal response to the storm that battered the East Coast. The contours of the presidential race remain much the same, with Obama and Republican Mitt Romney locked in a tight contest and both campaigns predicting victory.
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 campaign 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 administrator Craig Fugate and other administration officials. The White House said Obama would stay in touch with Fugate throughout the day. 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 and Ryan was appearing at events in Nevada and Colorado.
Before his Virginia events, 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 TV ad touting former Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent endorsement of Obama. It will run in 10 states, including Minnesota.
The Romney campaign announced a new TV spot criticizing Obama for suggesting the creation of a secretary of business. "His solution to everything is to add another bureaucrat," the ad says, then touts Romney's experience as a businessman as evidence that he would do a better job of improving the economy. The ad doesn't mention that Obama floated the idea of the new post as a way to consolidate nine agencies dealing with business concerns and eliminate bureaucracy.
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 also planned rallies in Las Vegas and 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.
Associated Press writer Kasie Hunt in Jacksonville, Fla., contributed to this report.
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