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Obama returns to campaign trail Thursday

President Obama will return to the campaign trail on Thursday with only five days remaining before the election, visiting the battleground states of Wisconsin, Nevada, and Colorado. Obama canceled events on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to oversee the government’s response to Hurricane Sandy, which has ravaged parts of the East Coast.

Obama will speak in Green Bay, Las Vegas and Boulder, after touring storm damage in New Jersey on Wednesday with Republican Governor Chris Christie.

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“Our judgment was until we got a handle on the scope of this disaster, the president’s job was to remain in Washington,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s senior strategist, on a phone call with reporters Wednesday. “We’ve passed a threshold here. We do have an election on Tuesday and we owe it to folks to make the final arguments and we’re going to do that.”

Mitt Romney also scrapped or modified rallies because of Sandy but resumed campaigning on Wednesday with three events in Florida. He was scheduled to appear with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, the state’s junior senator.

The campaign’s recommencement comes at a critical juncture. National polls show a deadlocked race for the White House, and some state-level surveys indicate tighter-than-expected contests.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, Obama leads by only 4 percentage points, according to a poll published on Wednesday by Franklin and Marshall College.

The president’s lead in Michigan is down to 3, according to a Detroit News survey released on Tuesday. And a Star Tribune poll published on Monday put Obama’s edge in Minnesota at just 3 points, also.

All three states have been widely regarded as surefire wins for the president, but the Romney campaign now claims to be in position to pull off upsets. The GOP nominee has begun airing a new ad in Pennsylvania, and his campaign distributed a memorandum to the press on Tuesday, saying it “has the resources to expand the map in ways that weren’t possible in past cycles.”

Obama’s team projected confidence on Wednesday, releasing a Web video in which campaign manager Jim Messina declared that the president is in a “dominant position.”

During a conference call with reporters, Messina accused the Romney campaign of trying to sell “illusion and delusion.” He singled out Romney’s auto ads running in Ohio that mislead voters to conclude that Obama’s 2009 auto bailout resulted in American jobs disappearing to China. Both Chrysler and General Motors have refuted Romney’s claims.

“As the clock ticks down,” Messina said, “it’s not just desperation we’re seeing. It’s also dishonesty.”

Axelrod said that in trying to salvage the election, Romney in the last few weeks has been “masquerading as a champion of the auto industry” after having repeatedly voiced his opposition to the bailout.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Axelrod vowed to return to the program after Election Day and “shave off my mustache of 40 years if we lose any of those three states,” referring to Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Michigan.

Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson, responded by accusing the Obama campaign of “desperate and flailing spin.”

“President Obama is playing defense in states that were once considered safely in his column,” Beeson said. “If the other side was on the move, they would be expanding into states that John McCain won in 2008; instead, they’re fighting to maintain turf in traditionally Democratic states.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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