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President Obama visits storm victims; Mitt Romney to focus on swing states

  • President Barack Obama, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, second from left, and others, speaks about superstorm Sandy during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

    President Barack Obama, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, second from left, and others, speaks about superstorm Sandy during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks to volunteers and supporters at a campaign office in Hudson, Wis., Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, where volunteers were collecting storm relief supplies. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

    Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks to volunteers and supporters at a campaign office in Hudson, Wis., Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, where volunteers were collecting storm relief supplies. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his wife Janna, left, get off their campaign plane upon their arrival at Austin Straubel International airport in Green Bay, Wis., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

    Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his wife Janna, left, get off their campaign plane upon their arrival at Austin Straubel International airport in Green Bay, Wis., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • President Barack Obama, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, second from left, and others, speaks about superstorm Sandy during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

    President Barack Obama, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, second from left, and others, speaks about superstorm Sandy during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • President Barack Obama, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, second from left, and others, speaks about superstorm Sandy during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
  • Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks to volunteers and supporters at a campaign office in Hudson, Wis., Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, where volunteers were collecting storm relief supplies. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
  • Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his wife Janna, left, get off their campaign plane upon their arrival at Austin Straubel International airport in Green Bay, Wis., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
  • President Barack Obama, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, second from left, and others, speaks about superstorm Sandy during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Obama is emphasizing his incumbent’s role for a third straight day, skipping voter contact in the handful of states that will decide the election to meet with officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Washington headquarters and visit victims of Hurricane Sandy around Atlantic City. Obama planned to resume campaign travel Thursday with gusto, with stops in Nevada, Colorado and Wisconsin.

The president’s actions have forced Romney to walk a careful line and make tough choices. The former Massachusetts governor must show respect for the superstorm’s casualties all along the Eastern Seaboard. But Romney can ill afford to waste a minute of campaign time, with the contest virtually deadlocked in several key states and the election six days away.

The storm has created an air of uncertainty in Romney’s Boston headquarters. Aides report that their internal polling offers a better outlook than recent public polling that gives Obama an edge in some swing states, but they concede that the national distraction has frozen any momentum Romney had coming out of this month’s debates.

Romney’s final travel schedule is not yet set, but aides suggest he will focus his time in traditional swing states instead of traveling to less competitive areas where the campaign is trying to expand the map. This week, for example, he is scheduled to focus on Florida, Virginia and Ohio with a brief stop in Wisconsin. But the campaign is leaving open the possibility that Romney makes a surprise visit to a state like Pennsylvania, given their recent investment in television advertising there.

Florida is among the most closely fought and the biggest prize among the swing states, with 29 electoral votes. Without victory in Florida, Romney will have an uphill and limited path to electoral victory.

“This is quite a time for the country. We’re going through trauma in a major part of the country, the kind of trauma you’ve experienced here in Florida more than once,” Romney said and encouraged donations to the Red Cross. He then launched into a critique of Obama’s leadership in tough economic times and said he would do better.

“I don’t just talk about change. I actually have a plan to execute change and make it happen,” Romney told about 2,000 people gathered in a hangar at Tampa’s airport.

Romney scheduled stops in some of the most populous parts of the state, with rallies also planned in Jacksonville and Coral Gables in the Miami area on Wednesday. The Obama campaign dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to play defense in Florida on Wednesday, with stops in the smaller, more conservative markets of Sarasota and Ocala aimed at narrowing the margin where Republicans usually fare well.

GOP running mate Paul Ryan was campaigning across his home state of Wisconsin before planning to take his children trick or treating. Wisconsin is part of the Romney-Ryan campaign’s eleventh-hour strategy of trying to put Democratic-leaning states in play and forcing Obama to shift resources to areas he has expected to win.

In tempered remarks, Ryan never explicitly criticized Obama and asked for prayers and donations for storm victims. The move reflected advice from his top aides to eschew partisanship for fear of appearing too shrill and strike a more civil tone in his critique of the president heading into the heart of the crisis. Plus, Romney and Ryan are still making attempts to win over moderate and undecided voters who have little patience for unbridled partisanship.

Ryan argued that Wisconsin was a battleground that will help decide the election and urged supporters to work hard for the next week so they have no regrets. “When we wake up a week from this morning, let’s make sure we did everything we could,” Ryan said.

With recent polls showing independents moving in Romney’s direction, campaign advisers say they believe it’s in part because of Romney’s focus on his record as a pragmatic, get-things-done governor who isn’t necessarily hemmed in by ideology. Romney advisers said their internal polling reflects disappointment in what some voters see as Obama’s inability to change the culture of Washington and eschew partisanship. They said that Romney’s comments during debates about his own record working with Democrats in Massachusetts were well-received.

That message has been reflected in Romney ads and in his standard campaign speech, where he paints Obama as representing the status quo and himself as the agent of change. A Romney ad running in Minnesota showed video of Obama saying he can’t change Washington from the inside but argues Romney did so in Massachusetts. “Some can’t live up to their promises. Others find a way,” it says.

Obama’s revised schedule also is a political gamble. Rather than use the campaign’s final Wednesday to woo voters in tossup states, he will go before cameras with New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie. Christie is one of Romney’s most prominent supporters, and a frequent Obama critic. But Christie praised Obama’s handling of the storm, a political twist the president’s visit is sure to underscore.

Obama also spent about an hour in a meeting at FEMA headquarters Wednesday, where he thanked emergency responders and warned the storm’s effects are still being felt. News photographers were allowed to accompany him inside, but not reporters.

While Obama and Romney were moving cautiously, their campaigns are exchanging sharp words in Ohio and expanding their operations into three Democratic-leaning states, a move that will reshape the contest’s final six days.

Romney’s campaign is running ads in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, and a pro-Romney group is doing the same in Michigan. Obama was leading in all three, but his campaign is taking the threat seriously. It sent former President Bill Clinton to Minnesota on Tuesday and is buying airtime in all three states, although senior Obama adviser David Axelrod flatly said they are safe.

“I will shave off my mustache of 40 years if we lose any of those three states,” Axelrod said in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

The pro-Romney super political action committee Restore Our Future also began airing ads in Democratic-leaning New Mexico Wednesday. The commercials — one criticizing Obama’s economic record and another touting Romney’s help to find a business partner’s missing daughter — are part of a new buy totaling $1.1 million in Minnesota and $700,000 in New Mexico.

Romney advisers say they view their last-minute push into Pennsylvania as more likely to produce results than similar efforts in Minnesota. They see opportunity with conservative, blue-collar Democrats in the western part of the state — and also say the state doesn’t have a statewide Democratic apparatus to activate. The one caveat: Philadelphia, where Democrats have a longstanding political machine.

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