By Justin Sink and Amie Parnes - 10/31/12 12:22 AM EDT
Mitt Romney and President Obama will re-emerge on the presidential trail on Wednesday, but in starkly different ways.
Romney will hold a trio of events in the swing state of Florida with prominent Republicans Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The president returns to the road on Thursday with campaign stops in Green Bay, Wis., Boulder, Colo., and Las Vegas, according to the Obama campaign.
The divergent paths underscore the challenge both campaigns have faced in recent days, trying to best balance the demands of a presidential race and the need to project the appropriate sensitivity as the Eastern Seaboard grapples with the aftermath of the catastrophic storm.
Obama has a natural advantage with the power of incumbency. The White House made sure to update reporters early Tuesday morning with the president’s work on response efforts to Sandy — including his endeavors overnight — and released photos of Obama meeting with federal officials. Later in the afternoon, the president visited the Red Cross, where he declared that his “message to the federal government” was “no bureaucracy, no red tape.” On Wednesday, a White House official noted Obama had continued to receive overnight updates on recovery efforts and he will be briefed again later today on "the impacts and the extensive federal support being provided to support state and local recovery efforts." The official noted that "the President continues to direct his team to lean forward aggressively."
But Obama's day job can also hamper his reelection efforts: He hasn’t been on the campaign trail since Saturday, though he’s been able to brandish prominent surrogates like Vice President Biden and former President Clinton.
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Romney, meanwhile, returns to the campaign trail on Wednesday after a one-day break.
The Republican candidate, sensing the need to make up ground in crucial swing states — and wary of losing momentum — will continue his aggressive campaign schedule through the final six days of the election.
But Obama will likely own the news cycle Wednesday; the images of him and Christie walking side by side could pay political dividends for the president.
The outspoken Republican governor, who gave the keynote address at this year’s GOP convention and endorsed Romney, has been effusive in his praise for the president in the aftermath of the storm.
“The federal government’s response has been great. I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the president, personally — he has expedited the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster area,” Christie told NBC News on Tuesday.
Asked by reporters if Romney might also visit the state, as had been previously rumored, Christie said he had “no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested.”
“If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me,” Christie added.
Obama campaign aides said Tuesday that the president is doing what voters elected him to do and is monitoring the situation hour by hour. Those close to the campaign suggested that Obama could be back on the trail later this week, possibly as early as Thursday.
Strategists from both sides suggest that if the president’s response to the storm is seen as effective, it could buoy Obama in the campaign’s waning hours.
“Good government is gonna be good politics,” said Steve Elmendorf, who served as deputy campaign manager for John Kerry’s presidential bid. “He has to spend as much time as necessary making sure the federal government is responsive and on top of the issues in the affected states.”
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, meanwhile, said that “as long as Obama looks like he’s at the head of the government, he’s getting some political points, too. There’s some advantage to looking as though you’re in charge.”
But the Romney campaign also looked to use the storm to display its candidate’s compassion and leadership.
At a “storm relief” event in Dayton, Ohio, Romney encouraged supporters to donate supplies that the campaign would transport to New Jersey, and helped box and load the supplies onto a moving truck.
“I appreciate your generosity. It’s part of the American spirit, the American way, to give to people in need,” Romney told the assembled crowd.
While both sides insisted their candidates were focused on the recovery efforts, strategists acknowledged that the campaigns were scrambling to strike the right tone in the storm’s aftermath.
“Both campaigns are basically going positive — maybe not in television ads, but in their speeches at public events. They can’t afford to go negative in an environment like this,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “They have to connect to voters and what they care about, and right now, that is recovering from Hurricane Sandy. So if they want to be part of the hurricane news coverage that has saturated the national news 24 hours a day, it’s a wise idea to adjust their events and their schedule.”
At the same time, political analysts acknowledged that with an election less than a week away, both Obama and Romney would need to re-engage on the campaign trail.
“The biggest risk is looking too political, but at the same time we’re six days out and the show must go on,” said O’Connell.
— This story was last updated at 9:40 a.m. on Oct. 31.