Presidential politics reignites in Sandy’s wake

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — Presidential politics reignited in the wake of natural disaster Thursday, with the candidates beginning their full-throttle closing arguments with new vigor on the same pocketbook concerns that have dominated the campaign from the start.

President Barack Obama, Republican rival Mitt Romney, their wives and running mates were blitzing across the country in the busiest day of campaign events yet. The six principals were hitting seven swing states that will help determine on Tuesday which man will occupy the White House for the next four years.

After avoiding criticism of Obama by name for a full day after Superstorm Sandy, Romney aides said Thursday it was game on. That was evident as Romney opened a new criticism of Obama’s suggestion that he would create a secretary of business.

“We don’t need a secretary of business to understand business, we need a president who understands business, and I do,” he said in Roanoke, Va. Romney’s crowd seemed as charged as he was, interrupting with frequent whoops of applause and chants of “Five more days!”

Obama also focused on the economy, arguing that Romney is not the agent of change he is trying to portray himself as and asking for four more years to complete his work. His closing argument stump speech is heavy on nostalgia harkening back to his hopeful 2008 campaign and even the days when President Bill Clinton led Americans to better economic times.

“By the end Bill Clinton’s second term America had created 23 million new jobs, and incomes were up and poverty was down and our deficit became the biggest surplus in our history,” Obama said in Green Bay, Wis. “So Wisconsin, we know the ideas that work.”

No one was hitting the ground harder in the final days than Clinton, who acted as a surrogate campaigner in chief while Obama was off the trail and had four stops scheduled Thursday in Wisconsin and Ohio. Clinton and Obama planned to appear together along with singer Dave Matthews on Saturday night in Bristow, Va.

Thursday’s quickened campaign pace forced a crisscross of overlapping paths. Obama and Romney’s running mate were trading places later in the day, with the president flying from Las Vegas to Colorado and Paul Ryan making the opposite journey. Meanwhile, Ann Romney and Clinton were circling each other across battleground Ohio, with just about 25 miles between them for appearances planned at the same time Thursday evening near Akron. Both also planned events less than 50 miles apart in central Ohio.

Obama’s campaign is seeking to make up for the time lost to Sandy with a heavy travel itinerary in the coming days, including rallies Thursday in Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado. Before traveling to Wisconsin, Obama held a storm briefing at the White House with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate and other administration officials, and the White House said Obama would stay in touch with Fugate and local officials affected by the storm throughout the day.

Romney’s aides concede that the storm stalled his momentum to the finish line but insist that internal polling shows they have leads in battleground states like Virginia, Florida, Colorado and North Carolina. But their specific path to 270 electoral votes is still unclear without Ohio or Wisconsin, where aides did not offer the same measure of confidence on Thursday. Romney is set to campaign in both states in the coming days.

Romney’s criticism of Obama’s secretary of business idea, raised during an interview this week on MSNBC, was echoed by Ryan, who said the post is already filled. “It’s actually called secretary of commerce,” Ryan said in Greeley, Colo. “That’s what this agency does. Let me ask you a question: Can anybody name our current secretary of commerce? You know why? We don’t have one. It’s been vacant for over four months and the president hasn’t even proposed to put somebody in the job. “

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