Obama, Romney back on attack as campaign hits final stretch

Thu Nov 1, 2012 3:14pm EDT

* After storm-induced pause, both candidates hit trail

* With five days left, a deadlocked race

* Obama to focus on shoring up Ohio, other Midwestern states

By Jeff Mason

GREEN BAY, Wis., Nov 1 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney were back on the attack on Thursday, breaking a storm-induced campaign truce to hit the road and pound home their closing messages in the final stretch of a tight battle for the White House.

With five days left until Tuesday's election, Obama resurrected his 2008 "change" slogan and said he was the only candidate who had actually fought for it. Romney criticized Obama as a lover of big government who would expand the federal bureaucracy.

National polls show the race is essentially deadlocked, and Obama and Romney will spend the final days in eight swing states that will decide who wins the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the White House.

Obama made Wisconsin the first stop on a four-state swing on Thursday that will also take him to rallies in Nevada and Colorado before spending the night in Ohio. Romney planned a full day of campaigning across Virginia.

"You may be frustrated at the pace of change, but you know what I believe, you know where I stand," Obama told a crowd of 2,600 people on an airport tarmac in Wisconsin, a vital piece of his electoral strategy. "I know what change looks like because I've fought for it."

Romney criticized Obama's comment in an interview aired by MSNBC on Monday that he would like to consolidate government agencies that deal with business issues in a new department under a Secretary of Business.

"I don't think adding a new chair to his cabinet will help add millions of jobs on Main Street," Romney said.

Obama and Romney had put campaigning on hold for several days as the historic storm Sandy pounded the eastern seaboard, leaving a trail of destruction and forcing Obama to turn his attention to storm relief.

That pause produced some unexpected benefits for Obama, who won warm praise from Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Romney supporter, and spent days directing federal relief efforts in a show of presidential leadership that largely sidelined Romney.

But both candidates returned to political attacks on their first day back on the trail, although they struck a slightly more positive tone than usual in trying to woo undecided voters and push their own supporters to vote.

SWING-STATE ADVANTAGE FOR OBAMA

Obama has a slight advantage in polls in several key swing states, fueled primarily by a small but steady lead in the vital battleground of Ohio - a crucial cog in any winning scenario for either candidate - and slight leads in Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada.

Barring any surprises elsewhere, Obama can win a second term by capturing the Midwestern bastions of Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, and his schedule was aimed at shoring up his safety net there.

Obama plans to visit Ohio on each of the last four days of the campaign, and plans two more trips to Wisconsin and Iowa.

So far, Obama has planned just one visit each to Florida and Virginia, where most polls give Romney a slight lead. Romney will hit Wisconsin and Ohio on Friday, and New Hampshire, Iowa and Colorado on Saturday.

Romney plans to finish up his campaign on Monday night in New Hampshire, the state where he launched his bid last year.

Romney's campaign has aired ads in recent days in the Democratic-leaning states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, hoping to put them in play after polls showed the races tightening but Obama still ahead.

But so far Romney has not scheduled campaign visits to any of those states. Romney's running mate Paul Ryan visited Minnesota earlier this week, and could hit Pennsylvania over the weekend.

Romney aides say the campaign's moves into those three new states were a sign of their growing momentum, although Obama aides described them as a desperate ploy to find new paths to 270 electoral votes.

A Reuters/Ipsos national online poll on Thursday showed the race remained effectively deadlocked, with Obama at 47 percent to Romney's 46 percent. Most national polls showed roughly similar results.

A series of swing state polls found Obama was clinging to slender leads in five of the eight most heavily contested states - Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire. Romney in most polls has a slight lead in Florida, while Virginia and Colorado were effectively tied.

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