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Obama Leaves Storm Behind as Romney Goes on Offensive

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney resumed head-to-head campaigning to make their closing arguments to voters in key battleground states with five days left before Election Day.

After taking a respite from attacking each other as Atlantic superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast and during the initial recovery period, the two candidates argued in separate appearances today about who is the best agent of change for the country.

“This is a time for big change, for real change,” Romney said in Roanoke, Virginia, adopting the theme Obama ran on in 2008. “I’m going make real changes.”

Obama countered that the former Massachusetts governor’s change represents a return to policies of former President George W. Bush’s administration, and accused Romney of switching positions on issues just to get elected.

“We know what change looks like and what the governor is offering sure ain’t change,” Obama said in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “You may not agree with every decision I’ve made, you may be frustrated at the pace of change but you know what I believe, you know where I stand.”

Obama was endorsed today by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said the president has gained “some important victories on issues that will help define our future,” including climate change and health care. Bloomberg, a political independent who is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP, made his endorsement in an opinion article published on Bloomberg View.

Costly and Close

The election campaign has been the costliest in U.S. history and also may be one of the closest.

A Washington Post/ABC News national tracking poll released yesterday showed Romney and Obama tied at 49 percent among likely voters, based on interviews conducted Oct. 27-30. Yet Obama continues to hold an edge in many of the battleground states that both campaigns say will decide the election.

Obama leads Romney by six percentage points in Iowa among likely voters and is out front by smaller margins in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College published today.

No Regrets

The poll shows Obama ahead 50 percent to 44 percent in Iowa, 49 percent to 47 percent in New Hampshire, and 49 percent to 46 percent in Wisconsin. The three states have 20 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. A University of Cincinnati poll released yesterday in Ohio, the state where the campaigns are competing the most aggressively, showed Obama backed by 48 percent of likely voters while Romney had the support of 46 percent.

Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the campaign isn’t surprised by polls showing a tight race in Wisconsin, a state the president won by 14 percentage points in 2008.

“We always knew that this state would be harder for us than in 2008,” Psaki said. “We certainly don’t look back and have any regrets on where we spent time and where we spent resources.”

The presidential candidates, party committees and outside groups together have spent more than $1.9 billion on the presidential race, with Romney’s supporters outspending Obama’s by about $57 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks election spending. Including congressional races and the national party conventions, the total cost for the 2012 election will exceed $6 billion, $700 million more than in 2008.

Campaign Return

The president spent the first half of the week overseeing the federal response to Sandy’s devastation. He viewed damage yesterday in New Jersey with the state’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, a Romney supporter and frequent Obama critic.

Obama left Wisconsin today for stops in Nevada and Colorado, two of the other most competitive states.

Romney refrained from direct attacks on Obama in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Earlier this week, he canceled some rallies and transformed one in Ohio into a storm relief event to solicit donations for the American Red Cross.

He went back on the offensive today, accusing Obama of pursuing policies that would worsen the economy.

“He has a campaign slogan which is forward,” Romney said. “I think forewarned is a better word.”

Disputed Ad

Both campaigns also engaged in an increasingly aggressive advertising battle.

The Obama campaign today released a second television ad defending the federal bailout of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC and attacking Romney over his campaign ad that suggests Chrysler’s plans to expand in China would cost jobs in Ohio.

The Romney ad has been disputed by both GM and Chrysler. Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne called it “inaccurate,” and Greg Martin, a GM spokesman in Detroit, said it was “misleading.”

The Obama ad is scheduled to air in Ohio and in Michigan, two states where the auto industry is a major employer.

“Ohio is slipping further and further away and with that are his hopes for winning the White House,” former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland said of Romney’s approach, during a conference call with reporters.

Romney’s campaign is running a Spanish-language ad in Florida claiming Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a niece of Fidel Castro support Obama. That ad, first reported by The Miami Herald, features a clip of Chavez saying if he could vote in this election, he’d cast his ballot for Obama.

Jobs Figures

Obama was buoyed by positive economic news today when the Conference Board reported that consumer confidence rose to a four-year high and new unemployment claims fell. The last major piece of economic news to come out before Election Day is the Labor Department report on jobs, due tomorrow morning.

The report may show employers took on 125,000 workers in October, not enough to keep the jobless rate from rising to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

“Regardless of what they are, the president feels that there’s more to do,” Psaki said.

The department reported today that applications for jobless benefits fell 9,000 to 363,000 in the week ended Oct. 27, the fewest in three weeks and lower than the median economists’ forecast of 370,000 claims.

‘Understands Business’

Romney said Obama has hurt job growth by being hostile to business and he criticized the president for his recent suggestion that several cabinet agencies should be consolidated under a “secretary of business.’”

“We don’t need a secretary of business to understand business, we need a president that understands business,” Romney said in Roanoke.

Obama in January asked Congress to consolidate six federal agencies dealing with trade and commerce to give businesses a single government contact point as part of a reorganization of the executive branch. Talking about the proposal on MSNBC on Oct. 29, Obama said the government “should have one secretary of business.”

Romney’s Roanoke stop was the first of three scheduled in Virginia, where he is campaigning with Senate candidate George Allen. Tomorrow, he plans events in Ohio and Wisconsin before flying to New Hampshire.

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