The race for the White House took on a less partisan tone Sunday, just nine days before the election, with President Obama focusing on preparations for a massive storm and Mitt Romney pledging to promote compromise in the name of economic growth, while campaigning in the critical battleground of Ohio.
“I know there are good Democrats that love America just like we do,” the Republican nominee told a crowd of about 2,000 in Celina, Ohio. “I want to reach across the aisle to them, work together, put the interests of the people ahead of the politicians. We’ve got to do this. It’s too critical a time.”
Romney’s recent praise of Obama’s party is a far cry from the attacks he waged during the GOP primary, when he said Obama “takes his political inspiration from Europe, and from the socialist democrats in Europe.”
Romney joined his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, for three events in the Buckeye State after canceling a planned tour of Virginia because of Hurricane Sandy. The storm also has altered Obama’s schedule; his campaign scrapped events in Virginia on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday, saying the president would return to Washington to monitor Sandy’s impact.
The massive weather system continued to swirl up the East Coast on Sunday. Flooding and utility outages could disrupt early voting — and possibly even Election Day polling next week — in some states.
Obama met with officials from FEMA on Sunday, after attending church with his daughters, and spoke with governors and mayors whose states and cities are likely to be affected by the storm. Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts participated in the call.
“Anything they need, we will be there,” Obama said during a news conference at FEMA headquarters in Washington. “And we’re going to cut through red tape. We’re not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules.”
Anticipating severe weather, the president declared a state of emergency in Maryland, where Governor Martin O’Malley called off early voting for Monday.
Both campaigns will watch the storm’s effect with an eye trained on Ohio, where Romney and Obama are tied at 49 percent, according to the latest Ohio Newspaper Organization survey. One month ago, the president led the same poll by 5 percentage points. Obama’s advantage in Ohio has hovered around 2 points throughout the last two weeks in an average of major polls, calculated by the website Real Clear Politics.
Romney surrogates expressed optimism on Sunday that the GOP ticket will win the state, which has picked the victor in 12 straight elections.
Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Romney’s performance in the debates, particularly the first one, made Ohio voters think, “you know, maybe he does get me.” The Obama campaign has cast Romney as out of touch with middle-class voters.
“That was an important part of why there’s such momentum in the state of Ohio right now,” Kasich said. “Look, it’s very close, but I believe right now we are currently ahead.”
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, campaigning with Romney and Ryan on Sunday, likened the final stage of the election to the late moments of a football game. “It’s the fourth quarter, tie game,” Portman told an audience in Celina. “We’re in the red zone, folks. We’ve got the momentum on our side.”
Romney was more reserved. After running through his five-point plan for economic growth, Romney asked, “[Do] you know what we have to do to make sure we get those five things done?”
“Well, yeah, we have to get me elected,” he said, responding to a crowd member’s answer. “But there’s something else I’ve got to do, with your help. I’ve got to make sure and reach across the aisle.”
The bipartisan emphasis typified Romney’s recent messaging. In endorsing a Republican presidential candidate for the first time in 40 years, the Des Moines (Iowa) Register editorialized on Sunday that Romney is more likely than Obama to “forge the compromises in Congress” needed to spur economic growth and balance the federal budget in a bipartisan manner.
Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, contended on ABC’s “This Week” that the Register’s endorsement “didn’t seem to be based at all in reality.”
“It says he’d reach across the aisle, which he’d do the exact opposite,” Cutter said. “It’s the exact opposite of what he did in Massachusetts. And, of course, over the course of running for president over the last six years, he’s never once stood up to the far extreme right wing.”
Cutter noted that Obama also picked up notable newspaper endorsements on Sunday, from The New York Times, Miami Herald, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Toledo Blade, and Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator, among others.
In addition to the Des Moines Register, Romney was endorsed by the Cincinnati Enquirer, Pensacola News Journal, Lima (Ohio) News, Green Bay Press-Gazette, and Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Many political analysts believe Ohio is the most critical of the tossup states. Obama plans to return to Ohio on Monday, after campaigning in Florida with Bill Clinton earlier in the day.
Despite Romney’s gains in the new Ohio Newspaper Organization poll, the Obama campaign projected confidence Sunday.
“As you look at these battleground states, we are even or ahead in virtually all of them, in these critical states like Ohio,” Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We maintain a consistent lead.”Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.