By Amie Parnes, Justin Sink and Jonathan Easley - 11/01/12 10:31 PM EDT
President Obama and Mitt Romney were back on the attack Thursday in multiple swing-state stops that opened the final chapter in the 2012 race for the White House.
Obama, who won a surprise endorsement Thursday from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), sought to parlay high marks for his handling of Hurricane Sandy into support at the ballot box, a tactic that came amid new evidence that the 2012 race is headed for a photo finish.
The latest national polling average from RealClearPolitics showed Obama and Romney nearly tied, with Obama at 47.4 percent and Romney at 47.3 percent with only five days remaining before Tuesday’s election.
While Obama has inched narrowly ahead in the RCP poll average, Team Romney signaled it hopes to expand the electoral battleground map by confirming the GOP candidate will campaign Sunday in Pennsylvania. Recent surveys show Romney cutting into Obama's longstanding lead in the Keystone State.
A day after touring storm-ravaged New Jersey with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, Obama returned to the campaign trail clad in an Air Force One bomber jacket and speaking from behind a podium adorned not with his campaign’s slogan, “Forward!” but with the presidential seal.
The disaster response showed “there are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm, just fellow Americans,” he told a crowd in Green Bay, Wis., a state that is key to both candidates’ paths to 270 electoral votes.
“We rise and fall as one nation, one people ... all the petty differences that consume us in normal times all seem to melt away,” Obama said.
Romney, for his part, took a much sharper tone against Obama than when he returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday, when he avoided criticizing the president by name.
Romney warned that “if the president were to be reelected, we’re going to see high levels of unemployment continue,” and mocked the president’s recent proposal to name a "secretary of Business."
“We don’t need a secretary of Business to understand business. We need a president who understands business," Romney said.
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.
While Obama branded Romney a bad salesman, he dropped his recent "Romnesia" punchline, which has been invoked to jab at what the president's campaign has deemed Romney's propensity to flip-flop on issues. Instead he lambasted Romney for calling himself the "change" candidate.
"What the governor's offering sure ain't change," Obama said of Romney at a campaign stop in Nevada.
Obama’s campaign believes he has been bolstered by the federal government’s response to Sandy, something that won him praise from Christie, a top Romney surrogate.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll found 78 percent of people rate Obama’s handling of the crisis positively.
The endorsement from Bloomberg was another boost — and was also Sandy-related. The New York mayor said he was backing Obama because of his support for policies to address climate change, something highlighted by a hurricane hitting his city days before Halloween.
Obama said he was "honored" to receive Bloomberg's endorsement.
Aides to Obama sought to assure voters that the president remained focused on his day job, especially in handling the hurricane's aftermath.
While en route to Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon, Obama participated in a daily call that Christie has been holding since Saturday involving 700 state and local officials.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday that the group spoke about the storm response efforts and that Obama reiterated his commitment to the federal response.
Romney’s supporters have downplayed the potential impact Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy will have on Election Day.
The multiple swing-state stops for Obama and Romney opened a period in which the two candidates will crisscross the country at a breakneck pace to visit as many battlegrounds as possible.
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 Ryan (R-Wis.) has campaigned heavily in his home state, where a victory would make it much easier for Romney to reach 270 electoral votes.
Obama also planned stops in the swing states of Nevada and Colorado on Thursday before holding three events in Ohio on Friday. He’ll 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.
While partisans on both sides are keenly watching both national and swing-state polls, this week’s hurricane has made it more difficult to get a clear picture of the state of the race.
Gallup, among other pollsters, had suspended its national polling operations because of Hurricane Sandy.
A statement posted on its website late Wednesday indicated poll watchers should be skeptical of any national polls released this week and before Election Day.
“It is impossible to adequately weight to compensate for large segments of the population who cannot be reached at all in a survey, or in very low percentages, and whose opinions may have changed from previous, pre-storm measures,” Gallup CEO Frank Newport wrote.
— Daniel Strauss contributed.