GREEN BAY, Wisc. (Reuters) - In what his advisers billed as his closing argument, President Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail for the first time in four days on Thursday, declaring "our work is not yet done" and reviving his successful 2008 campaign slogan: change.
Obama resumed re-election rallies after overseeing the response to the devastating storm that hit the eastern seaboard. The president, who won the White House four years ago thanks in part to his themes of "hope" and "change," had largely avoided them until now.
But as Republican rival Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, sought to portray himself as the new candidate of change, Obama aimed to reclaim that mantle in a neck-and-neck race with just five days to go before Election Day.
"I know what change looks like because I've fought for it," Obama told a crowd of some 2,600 on an airport tarmac in Wisconsin, one of a handful of battleground states that will determine the winner of the November 6 election.
Obama said Romney's proposals to reduce regulations for banks and cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans were examples of policies that had led to the economic problems that he inherited when he became president in 2009.
"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.
"Well, let me tell you Wisconsin, we know what change looks like. And what the governor is offering sure ain't change."
The Romney campaign, boosted by their candidate's surge in the polls over the past month, dismissed Obama's arguments.
"We've said all along this election is a choice between the status quo and real change - change that offers promise that the future will be better than the past," said Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. "President Obama's misguided policies and broken promises have let down millions of Americans, and we can't afford four more years like the last four."
Obama conceded that he had not been able to make progress on all the changes he promised in 2008, but he noted as he repeatedly does that he ended the war in Iraq, repealed a policy that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, and ordered the U.S. mission that killed Osama bin Laden.
Keeping a slightly more positive tone, Obama drew distinctions with Romney without being as aggressive as he has been in recent weeks. He did not mention the word "Romnesia" - the term he has used to delight crowds when describing what he says are Romney's tendencies to shift positions.
But he kept up strong criticism of his opponent. Obama portrayed the Republican challenger as someone who would not bring bipartisanship to Washington - a promise Obama also made four years ago and has had trouble keeping.
Obama, who has focused his campaign primarily on appealing to middle class Americans, also used a section of his speech to praise the record of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who has become the top surrogate for Obama in the final days of the campaign.
The remarks were Obama's first at a political event since superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the eastern United States earlier this week
The president spent three days off the campaign trail to oversee the response effort, drawing unexpectedly warm praise from Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Romney supporter, who toured storm damage with Obama on Wednesday.
Obama opened his remarks with a nod to the suffering experienced by those affected by the storm, and aides said he would be briefed about the recovery process throughout the day.
After Wisconsin, Obama has stops scheduled in Nevada and Colorado before spending the night in Ohio.
The race for the White House remained effectively tied on Thursday, with Obama backed by 47 percent of likely voters and Romney supported by 46 percent in a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll. That margin has been constant in the online poll for three days running and is statistically insignificant.