NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. — After presiding over four straight trillion-dollar deficits and a stubbornly weak economic recovery, President Obama billed himself as the real candidate of change Thursday as his tight race against Republican Mitt Romney entered the final days of campaigning.
The president returned to the campaign trail after a four-day hiatus caused by Hurricane Sandy, visiting the battleground states of Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado. Polling averages show the president leading in all three by the narrowest of margins.
Mr. Romney has been making headway with his argument that Americans can't afford four more years under Mr. Obama. But the president unveiled one more adjustment to his stump speech Thursday after the storm-imposed break in campaigning, pivoting to the new argument that his incumbent candidacy offers the true promise of change in the race.
"He's saying he's the candidate of change," the president said of Mr. Romney in Nevada. "We know what changes look like. What the governor is offering sure ain't change. Another $5 trillion tax cut that favors the wealthy isn't change. Ruling out compromise by pledging to rubber-stamp the tea party's agenda as president — that's definitely not change. In fact, that's exactly the attitude in Washington that needs to go."
The president said his leadership hasn't always produced results, but voters know where he stands on the issues, an implicit shot at Mr. Romney's long-standing reputation as a flip-flopper.
"After four years as president, you know me by now," Mr. Obama told supporters. "You may be frustrated at the pace of change. But you know what I believe. You know I'm willing to make tough decisions, even when they're not politically convenient. I know what real change looks like, because I fought for it. I've got the scars to prove it."
The Romney campaign assailed Mr. Obama's economic leadership by seizing on a report from the Treasury Department showing that the federal government will hit its borrowing limit of $16.39 trillion by the end of this year.
"Over the last four years, President Obama has run up trillions of dollars in new debt that the next generation will be forced to repay," Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. "This week, the Obama administration confirmed we'll need yet another debt-ceiling hike shortly after the election. Middle-class Americans and job creators can't afford four more years like the last four years. As president, Mitt Romney will deliver real change by cutting wasteful spending and putting our nation on the path toward a balanced budget."
A Treasury official said the government can use the same "extraordinary" measures it has employed in the past to keep the government running until early 2013.
With an unemployment rate of 11.8 percent and a housing industry that was hit especially hard in the recession, Nevada is prime territory for voters looking for a change. Mr. Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, also held campaign appearances Thursday in Las Vegas and Reno.
Early voting in Nevada ends Friday. About 46 percent of Nevada voters had cast ballots by Thursday, and Mr. Obama had an eight-point lead among those voters, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The number of registered Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic, is up 15 percent over 2008, the Obama campaign said.
Arguing that the economy is turning around under his leadership, the president said his record of "real change" includes the 2010 health care overhaul, new financial regulations, the auto bailout and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
At an earlier rally in Green Bay, Wis., sporting a leather bomber jacket emblazoned with the words "Air Force One" and "Barack Obama, commander-in-chief," Mr. Obama again made the case for raising taxes on the wealthy as the only way to reduce the mounting deficits. He accused Mr. Romney of using bad math and failing to elaborate on the details of his tax-cut plan.
"We don't need a big-government agenda or a small-government agenda. We need a middle-class agenda that rewards hard work and responsibility," he told the crowd of about 2,600, one of the smallest to hear the president speak in recent weeks. The audience at the midday rally in Las Vegas, estimated at 4,500, also appeared smaller than at Mr. Obama's usual campaign events.
The president said he wanted to lead America forward by emulating the policies of the Clinton presidency.
"By the end of Bill Clinton's second term, American had created 23 million new jobs. We know the ideas that work," Mr. Obama said.
On Wednesday, the president toured storm damage in New Jersey with Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and Romney supporter who praised Mr. Obama's response to the hurricane. Now back on the campaign trail, Mr. Obama tried to strike a bipartisan note when speaking about Americans' response to the superstorm that pummeled the Eastern Seaboard Monday and Tuesday.
"When disaster strikes, we see America at its best," he said. "All the petty differences that consume us in normal times somehow melt away. There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm. There are just fellow Americans."
Although Mr. Obama is campaigning full time again, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president "will stay in regular touch" with W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and others "to ensure that bureaucracy and red tape are not impeding efforts to respond to communities recovering from the storm."
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki defended the president's decision to resume campaigning, saying, "There's another reality happening, which is the election that's happening in five days."
Mr. Obama will campaign Friday and Saturday in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Ms. Psaki said early voting in Wisconsin favors the president, with Democratic counties and precincts casting 161,787 votes as of Thursday and 78,876 votes coming from Republican-leaning wards.
The president also picked up the endorsement Thursday of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an independent. Among other reasons, the mayor cited the need to address climate change, saying even if it wasn't responsible for the flooding and storm damage in New York this week, climate change "should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action."
"President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption," Mr. Bloomberg said.
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