By Amie Parnes - 11/01/12 05:09 PM EDT
President Obama reemerged on the campaign trail Thursday with a call for unity and bipartisanship in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, saying that Americans “rise and fall as one nation, one people.”
Obama’s appearance in Green Bay, Wis. followed a speech earlier in Virginia by Republican Mitt Romney, who attacked Obama’s handling of the economy for the first time since Sandy devastated New Jersey and New York.
Polls show the two deadlocked in a tight race, with a Fox News poll released Thursday finding them each with 46 percent support.
In Green Bay, Obama sought to remind the crowd who is president.
With the presidential plane taxied on the runway, Obama emerged in an Air Force One bomber jacket and spoke behind a podium adorned not with his campaign’s slogan “Forward!” but with the presidential seal.
A day after touring storm-ravaged New Jersey with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch Romney supporter, Obama opened his address by highlighting how Sandy left people of different political stripes working together.
“We rise and fall as one nation, one people ... all the petty differences that consume us in normal times all seem to melt away,” he said. “There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm, just fellow Americans.”
Aides sought to ensure that Obama was still focused on his day job, especially in handling the hurricane's aftermath. As he traveled to Wisconsin on Thursday morning, Obama called Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy to discuss the storm.
In Virginia, Romney criticized Obama over the economy, saying a day before a critical jobs report is released that “if the president were to be re-elected, we’re going to see high levels of unemployment continue.”
He also slammed Obama’s recent comment about appointing a “secretary of Business.”
“We don’t need a secretary of Business to understand business,” Romney said. “We need a president who understands business. I don’t think adding a new chair in his Cabinet will help add millions of dollars on Main Street.”
Obama went through about half his speech without even mentioning Romney by name. But later, he ripped the Republican, saying his opponent is using “all of his skills as a salesman” to campaign as an agent of change.
“He’s saying he’s the candidate of change,” Obama said of Romney. “Well let me tell you Wisconsin, we know what change looks like.”
“I know what change looks like because I fought for it,” he added.
Both candidates suspended public political activities Monday and Tuesday. Romney returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday, but softened his attacks on Obama and didn’t mention the president by name.
Thursday’s rally in Wisconsin marked the third time Obama has held an event in the state in the last six months. Romney running mate Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanWhy didn’t Republicans invite the IG to the IRS hearings? GOP mired in Zika dispute Ryan secures big win with bipartisan Puerto Rico deal MORE (R-Wis.) has campaigned heavily in his home state, where a victory would make it much easier for Romney to reach 270 electoral votes.
“We always knew this state would be harder than it was for us in 2008 ... obviously when Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, he’s a native son,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday. “He’s basically moved into the state and put a great deal of time in there. ... We’ve had an organization on the ground there since 2008 and we think that continues to be helpful and is one of the reasons we’re going to win Wisconsin on Tuesday"
But Psaki said the campaign doesn’t “have any regrets” about not visiting the state often.
“In any campaign you always have to be flexible and always need to be moving where the state of the race is going, and Romney’s pouring money there when he decided Paul Ryan would pitch a tent and move into his own state,” she said. “So we’re going to spend time there and we’re going to spend money there.”
Obama is also traveling to the swing states of Nevada and Colorado on Thursday before holding three events in Ohio on Friday. He’s visit a host of other swing states over the weekend.
Romney begins a nationwide tour in Ohio on Friday. He’ll also be in Wisconsin on Friday and in New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Virginia on Saturday.
—Justin Sink contributed to this story.