Mitt Romney back on attack as candidates return to campaign

Mitt Romney returned to a full-throated attack on President Obama and his economic policies on Thursday — a signal that the campaign was back to full strength.

The GOP nominee, who had cautiously returned to the campaign trail Wednesday after taking a break because of Hurricane Sandy, told supporters in Virginia that "if the president were to be reelected, we're going to see high levels of unemployment continue." He also slammed Obama's suggestion for a "secretary of Business."

“We don’t need a secretary of Business to understand business. We need a president who understands business," Romney said. "I don't think adding a new chair in his Cabinet will help add millions of dollars on Main Street."

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That attack line will also be featured in a Romney campaign ad debuting Thursday. 

Running mate Paul Ryan echoed those attacks at a Thursday afternoon event in Greeley, Colo., saying that the administration already has a "Secretary of Business" called the "Secretary of Commerce."

"Can anyone name the current Secretary of Commerce?" he asked. No one could. "You know why? We don't have one. It's been vacant for over four months and the president hasn't even proposed someone to put in the job."

Rebecca Blank has been acting Secretary of Commerce since John Bryson resigned the job in June.

"We don't need another secretary, another bureaucracy, we need another president!" Ryan argued.

At his event in Virginia, Romney also joked about the "four more years" chants that have become a hallmark of Obama's campaign stops.

"I know the Obama folks are chanting four more years, four more years, but our chant is this — five more days, five more days. That's our chant," Romney said, prompting the crowd to scream just that.

Both presidential candidates suspended public political activities on Monday. On Tuesday, Romney collected hurricane-relief supplies from supporters. On Wednesday he crisscrossed Florida with leading surrogates, but he never mentioned Obama by name and refrained from direct criticism of the president.

But with Obama returning to the campaign trail Thursday with stops in Wisconsin, Colorado and Nevada, the gloves appear to be back off. Obama has not made a campaign appearance since Saturday, coordinating the federal response to the deadly storm from Washington and touring damage in New Jersey with Gov. Chris Christie (R), a prominent Romney supporter.

Romney took a brief moment near the top of his remarks to ask supporters to consider a donation to relief efforts and to keep the victims of the storm in their thoughts.

"A lot of people lost their lives, a lot of families have been devastated, a lot of homes have been lost and property lost and our hearts go out to the people who are suffering," Romney said.

But the Republican presidential nominee quickly transitioned into what nearly amounted to a "greatest hits" of his stump speech's regular attacks on the president.

"I saw the signs outside — 'Forward.' I think 'forewarned' is the better word," Romney quipped of Obama's campaign slogan. "I mean, do you want four more years like the last four years?"

Romney swiped at the president's energy policy — again joking that the president's "all of the above" strategy meant simply all of the sources of energy "above ground — wind and solar" — and knocked Obama for his signature healthcare reform legislation.

"If the president's reelected, you're going to cut Medicare by $716 billion to pay for ObamaCare," Romney said.

The Obama campaign quickly pushed back on Romney's remarks, arguing in a statement that "the idea that Mitt Romney would help businesses grow as president doesn’t match his record or his policies."

"Mitt Romney can lurch from false attack to false attack in the final days of this campaign, but the American people understand President Obama is the only candidate in this race with a concrete plan to move our country forward, grow our economy and strengthen the middle class," Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said.

By regaining his aggressive tone, Romney hopes that he can again capture some of the momentum that helped him nearly close the gap with Obama in October. A new set of battleground polls released Thursday — which included surveys showing the candidates tied in Florida and the president leading in Iowa, Michigan, Nevada and New Hampshire — show that the Republican challenger still has ground he must make up before voters head to the polls in five days.

On a Wednesday conference call with reporters, top Romney strategists said they believed that they had the advantage in the campaign's final days — but also said that Romney would continue to aggressively attack the president, despite lingering concerns about victims of the storm.

"I think that tomorrow we will be engaging in a campaign that would be the campaign that would  be [expected] six days away from an election," Romney aide Russ Schriefer said. "I think we will be talking about the contrast between what President Obama hasn't done and what people believe we can't afford four more years like the last four years and what Gov. Romney would do."

— Alicia M. Cohn contributed

— This story was updated at 2:43 p.m.