- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2012

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — For the first time since superstorm Sandy walloped the East Coast, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney returned to full campaign mode Wednesday in the key battleground state of Florida, where he toned down his attacks against President Obama while touting an optimistic message that centered on his plans for strengthening the economy and nurturing bipartisanship in Washington.

Stuck in the tricky political position of competing for headlines with a president who was touring areas devastated by the storm, Mr. Romney steered clear of the blistering attacks that he was leveling at Mr. Obama on a daily basis before the storm claimed dozens of lives and left millions without power.

Mr. Romney urged people to donate money to the Red Cross and — in a clear change of gears — refrained from directly criticizing or mentioning Mr. Obama by name on the stump.

Instead, he slipped in thinly veiled jabs at Mr. Obama’s performance, saying the path the nation is on has left college graduates struggling to find work, an economy hobbled by lower levels of new business growth and 47 million people dependent on food stamps.

“I believe that this is the year for us to take a different course,” Mr. Romney said, before hijacking Mr. Obama’s “change” slogan from 2008. “I will bring real change and real reform. I don’t just talk about change, I actually have a plan to execute change and make it happen.”

At three campaign stops, Mr. Romney came armed with political reinforcements, including popular former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Connie Mack, a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Speaking at the Bank United Center at the University of Miami, Mr. Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush, told the 3,500 people in attendance that Mr. Romney will move the nation toward an “opportunity society” and away from “this false promise that somehow government can provide security for us all.”

He also cast the former Massachusetts governor as someone who would stop the finger-pointing that has become the modus operandi of the Obama administration.

Mr. Obama’s “entire strategy is to blame others — starting with my brother, of course,” Mr. Bush said. “Basically, he blames every possible thing rather than having the humility to be able to reach out and to find common ground.”

In a political twist, Mr. Obama traveled to New Jersey to link up with Gov. Chris Christie, a top Romney surrogate, to get a first-hand look at the damage caused by Sandy, which has changed the tenor of the presidential campaign.

Kevin Madden, a top Romney adviser, told reporters on the campaign plane that, as of yet, Mr. Romney has no plans to visit the areas damaged by the storm, and that the “positive tone” Mr. Romney was espousing on the stump was partly out of concern for those affected by the storm.

Mr. Madden refused to weigh in on the post-storm politics.

“We try not to look at the handicapping of the campaign through the lens of the storm and instead just focus on just getting our message out to voters,” Mr. Madden said.

Asked whether Mr. Romney thought Mr. Obama has done a good job responding to the storm, Mr. Madden said the response is ongoing, so he is not in a position to qualify the effort. He also referred reporters to the remarks made by Mr. Christie, who said this week the president deserves “great credit.”

A Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday showed that Mr. Romney is leading Mr. Obama 48 percent to 47 percent in Florida and 49 percent to 47 percent in Virginia, but Mr. Obama holds a 50 percent to 45 percent lead in Ohio.

The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Mr. Romney sitting atop slim leads in Virginia and here in Florida — where he has three campaign stops planned Wednesday — and found Mr. Obama holding on to a two-point edge in Ohio, which many see as Mr. Romney’s key to victory.

In dueling conference calls, the two campaigns spun the latest polls in their favor, with Team Romney making the case that momentum is on its side. They said their supporters are more enthusiastic about voting, that Mr. Romney now holds a higher favorability rating, and that they’ve put Mr. Obama on his heels in states — Pennsylvania, Michigan or Minnesota — that Mr. Obama was were supposed to easily win.

“I feel like we are in a very, very, good place with one week to go,” said Russ Schriefer, a senior Romney adviser.

Team Obama countered that the Romney camp was projecting “faux-mentum.” They said Mr. Romney is growing desperate and it shows in Ohio, where the Republican is running television and radio ads about the auto bailout that top Obama strategist David Axelrod called “fundamentally misleading.”

Raising the stakes, Mr. Axelrod went as far to say that he would shave off his signature moustache if Mr. Romney captured Pennsylvania, Michigan or Minnesota.

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