GREEN BAY, Wisconsin (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney went 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 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 also took 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 political benefits for Obama, who won warm praise from Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Romney supporter, and he spent days directing federal relief efforts in a show of presidential leadership that largely sidelined Romney.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg - a Republican-turned-independent who did not back a candidate in 2008 - endorsed Obama and cited the Democrat’s record on climate change, in the aftermath of the storm.
Bloomberg said Obama had taken significant steps to reduce carbon consumption, while Romney had backtracked on earlier positions he took as governor of Massachusetts to battle climate change. Obama said he was “honored” by the backing of Bloomberg, who flirted with White House runs in the past.
On their first day back on the trail, both Obama and Romney returned to political attacks but struck a slightly more positive tone than usual in trying to woo undecided voters and push their own supporters to vote.
In Doswell, Virginia, Romney proclaimed his faith in the future and said, “The American people have what it takes to come out of these tough times.” In Wisconsin, Obama drew distinctions with Romney but dropped his usual reference to “Romnesia” - the term he uses to describe what he calls Romney’s tendency to shift positions.
Obama has a somewhat easier path to 270 electoral votes than Romney, fueled primarily by a small but steady lead in the vital battleground of Ohio - a crucial piece of 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. He will conclude his campaign on Monday night with rock singer Bruce Springsteen in Iowa, where a 2008 caucus win launched his run to the presidency.
So far, Obama has planned just one visit each in the final days 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.
The campaign said Romney would visit Pennsylvania on Sunday, marking his first campaign visit since the nominating convention to one of his new target states. A win in Pennsylvania would be a crippling blow to Obama, but most public polls still show Obama leading there.
Romney aides said the 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.
Most swing-state polls have found Obama clinging to slender leads in five of the eight most heavily contested states - Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire. In most polls, Romney has a slight lead in Florida, while Virginia and Colorado were effectively tied.
A Reuters/Ipsos online poll on Thursday showed Obama with a 5-point lead in Virginia, and 2-point leads among likely voters in both Ohio and Florida. Romney led by 1 point in Colorado in the Reuters/Ipsos polls.
Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Virginia; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney