KETTERING, Ohio — With Sandy spreading more storm havoc, the two presidential contenders stepped back Tuesday from overt politicking as their tight race assumed an odd limbo just a week before Election Day.
President Barack Obama remained at the White House, overseeing federal emergency efforts and receiving welcome praise from New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, who has been one of Mitt Romney’s highest-profile surrogates. Obama announced he would tour battered New Jersey with Christie on Wednesday, skipping a pair of campaign rallies.
The GOP nominee helped gather donations at an Ohio campaign stop hastily rebranded as a relief effort, then flew to Florida, where he planned to resume full-time campaigning on Wednesday. Romney declined to respond when reporters asked about past statements questioning the role of the federal government in disaster relief.
He struck a decidedly nonpartisan tone in brief remarks to more than 1,000 supporters gathered at a high school arena outside Dayton.
“We have heavy hearts, as you know, with all the suffering going on in a major part of our country,” Romney said. “A lot of people hurting this morning. They were hurting last night. And the storm goes on.”
Meanwhile, Obama paid a visit to Red Cross headquarters in Washington, where he said his “most important message” to those suffering is “America is with you” and will be for the long haul. He said the emergency response had been outstanding and the word he sent to federal emergency officials was to act without hesitation. “No bureaucracy,” Obama said. “No red tape.”
“Get resources where they’re needed as fast as possible, as hard as possible, and for the duration,” Obama said.
The president received effusive praise—politically unthinkable, under normal circumstances—from Christie, who took to the morning talk shows to discuss the devastation his state suffered.
The administration has been “outstanding,” Christie said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I want to thank the president personally.”
Asked on Fox News—before Obama’s visit was announced—about the prospect of a Romney tour, Christie replied: “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics and I could care less about any of that stuff.”
All the while, the candidates and their allies kept pummeling each other on the television airwaves. Romney was airing a pair of anti-Obama ads making discredited claims about the auto bailout and welfare reform. Obama and his supporters were paying for spots attacking Romney’s private-sector record at Bain Capital and replaying a clip from the secretly recorded video where he disparaged the 47 percent of Americans he said were overly reliant on government support.