For Obama and Romney, renewed sense of urgency
President Obama and Mitt Romney effectively resumed the presidential campaign on Thursday after three days of little campaigning as the Eastern seaboard grappled with superstorm Sandy. And both candidates carried with them a renewed sense of urgency tied to the fact that their carefully calibrated plans for the final stretch of the campaign had to be thrown out when Mother Nature imposed her will.
Romney, who had offered a positive message on Wednesday as Mr. Obama toured storm damage in New Jersey, went on the attack in Virginia. He hammered the president for seeking to empower a Secretary of Business, a criticism that echoed a new Romney ad that suggests the president's "solution to everything is to add another bureaucrat."
Mr. Obama, meanwhile, attacked Romney's attempt to claim the mantle of change. "Giving more power to the biggest banks isn't change," Mr. Obama said. "Leaving millions without health insurance isn't change...Turning Medicare into a voucher is change, but we don't want that change."
The polls out Thursday showed what we already knew: It's a tight race nationally, and while Mr. Obama appears to hold slim leads in key battleground states like Wisconsin and Iowa, it's close everywhere. In the crucial battleground of Ohio, where polls have shown Mr. Obama with a small lead, one new survey showed the two candidates effectively tied. In Virginia, which most polls have found to be a tossup, a new survey had Romney up by five percentage points. Surveys in New Hampshire and Colorado found the race to be effectively tied.
CBS News now estimates that there are 255 electoral votes that lean toward Mr. Obama or are solidly in his column, compared to 206 for Romney; 270 electoral votes are necessary for the presidency. (This tally has Ohio, which some consider a tossup, in Mr. Obama's column.) Romney thus has the harder path to victory, but because the race is so close in the battleground states, he's very much alive.
One clue as to where the campaigns believe the race stands can be found in their schedules: If a candidate uses his precious time to travel to a state, it suggests his campaign is serious about contesting it. And that's why it was interesting to learn that Romney plans to campaign in Pennsylvania on Sunday, a state that has long been assumed to be in Mr. Obama's column. (The Romney campaign confirmed the trip to CBS News, though it has not been announced publicly.) Most polls there have shown a big Obama lead, but a Franklin and Marshall College poll released Wednesday found Romney within four percentage points among likely voters. The Romney camp will spin his decision to campaign in the state could be taken as a sign of confidence, since it suggests the candidate is on offense and expanding the electoral map. The Obama campaign will cast it as a sign of weakness: Since Romney hasn't locked down the clear battlegrounds states, they argue, his decision to spend time in a relative long shot state like Pennsylvania reeks of desperation.
The president's schedule: After spending time in Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado on Thursday, he heads to Ohio Friday. On Saturday he's in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia. Sunday: New Hampshire, Florida, Colorado and Ohio. Monday: Wisconsin, Iowa and - you guessed it - Ohio.
The message is clear: The president badly wants the Buckeye State, where he will be each of the next four days. He's also betting on a victory in Wisconsin. If he wins those two states and the other states he is expected to win, he'll have 265 electoral votes. He could then win reelection with Iowa, Wisconsin or Colorado - all states he will visit in the next four days.
After spending Thursday in Ohio, Romney was set to spend Friday in Wisconsin and Ohio - another sign of the importance of those states. Saturday he'll be in New Hampshire, Colorado, and Iowa. His remaining plans have yet to be fully announced, but we know he'll be in Pennsylvania on Sunday and in New Hampshire on Monday.
Two things to watch in the coming days will be whether polls show Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes to be truly within Romney's reach, and whether Romney does something big to try to regain the spotlight in the wake of storm coverage that relegated him to the back pages. At least one prominent conservative believes he needs to do so.
"Mixed opinions about electoral effect of Sandy. I think big help to Obama," News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch wrote in a Twitter message Thursday. "Now Romney must get attention with big visionary speech." https://twitter.com/rupertmurdoch/statuses/264109798117748736
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