BRIGANTINE, N.J. – President Obama soberly toured the destruction wrought by superstorm Sandy on Wednesday in the company of New Jersey’s Republican governor and assured victims “we will not quit” until cleanup and recovery are complete. Six days before their hard-fought election, rival Mitt Romney muted criticism of Obama as he barnstormed battleground Florida.
Forsaking partisan politics for the third day, the president helicoptered with Gov. Chris Christie over washed-out roads, flooded homes, boardwalks bobbing in the ocean and, in Seaside Heights, a fire still burning.
Despite the tour and Romney’s own expressions of sympathy for storm victims – a break on the surface from heated campaigning – a controversy as heated as any in the long, intense struggle for the White House flared over the Republican challenger’s new ads in Ohio.
“Desperation,” Vice President Joe Biden said of the broadcast claims that suggested General Motors and Chrysler are adding jobs in China at the expense of workers in Ohio.
Republicans were unrepentant as Romney struggled for a breakthrough in the Midwest.
“American taxpayers are on track to lose $25 billion as a result of President Obama’s handling of the auto bailout, and GM and Chrysler are expanding their production overseas,” said an email issued in the name of GOP running mate Paul Ryan.
The two storms – one inflicted by nature, the other whipped up by rival campaigns – were at opposite ends of a race nearing its end in a flurry of early balloting, unrelenting advertising and so many divergent polls that the result was confusion, not clarity.
National surveys make the race a tight one for the popular vote, with Romney ahead by a statistically insignificant point or two in some, and Obama in others.
The storm added yet another element of uncertainty, as Obama spent a third straight day embracing his role as incumbent and Romney tried to tread lightly during a disaster.
The president received a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency across town from the White House before flying to New Jersey.
Christie was waiting when Air Force One landed, and he and Obama walked together toward the president’s helicopter to begin their tour. It was a tableau that seemed impossible a week ago – a president flying off to a non-battleground state to spend the afternoon in the company of the man who delivered the keynote address at the RNC.
The two men spoke of one another in glowing terms.
“He has sprung into action immediately,” said Christie.
Said Obama of the governor, “He has put his heart and soul into making sure the people of New Jersey bounce back stronger than before.”
Romney was spending the day in Florida, campaigning with former Gov. Jeb Bush. It was an indication that Republicans view the state’s 29 electoral votes as anything but secure.