President Barack Obama soberly toured the destruction wrought by superstorm Sandy on Wednesday in the company of New Jersey’s Republican governor and assured victims “we will not quit” until cleanup and recovery are complete. Six days before their hard-fought election, rival Mitt Romney muted criticism of Obama as he barnstormed battleground Florida.
Forsaking partisan politics for the third day in a row, the president helicoptered with Gov. Chris Christie over washed-out roads, flooded homes, boardwalks bobbing in the ocean and, in Seaside Heights, a fire still burning after ruining about eight structures.
Back on the ground, the president introduced one local woman to “my guy Craig Fugate.” In a plainspoken demonstration of the power of the presidency, Obama instructed the man at the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a 7,500-employee federal agency, to “make sure she gets the help she needs” immediately.
Despite the tour and Romney’s own expressions of sympathy for storm victims — a break on the surface from heated campaigning — a controversy as heated as any in the long, intense struggle for the White House flared over the Republican challenger’s new television and radio ads in Ohio.
“Desperation,” Vice President Joe Biden said of the broadcast claims that suggested automakers General Motors and Chrysler are adding jobs in China at the expense of workers in the bellwether state.
Republicans were unrepentant as Romney struggled for a breakthrough in the Midwest.
“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,” said an emailed statement issued in the name of Republican running mate Paul Ryan.
The two storms — one inflicted by nature, the other whipped up by rival campaigns — were at opposite ends of a race nearing its end in a flurry of early balloting by millions of voters, unrelenting advertising and so many divergent polls that the result was confusion, not clarity.
National surveys make the race a tight one for the popular vote, with Romney ahead by a statistically insignificant point or two in some, and Obama in others.
The storm added yet another element of uncertainty, as Obama spent a third-straight day embracing his role as incumbent and Romney tried to tread lightly during a major East Coast disaster.