President Obama returned to the campaign trail on Thursday and earned the endorsement of Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, an independent former Republican whose background more closely resembles that of GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
The president’s return, after three days spent directing the government’s response to Hurricane Sandy, marked the end of a storm-prompted cease-fire between Obama and Romney, and they went back on the attack in battleground states.
In Virginia, Romney knocked Obama’s suggestion earlier this week that he would create a new Cabinet position, a secretary of business, in his second term.
“We don’t need the secretary of business to understand business,” Romney said, speaking at a window and door company in Roanoke. “We need a president who understands business, and I do.”
In an interview that aired Monday on MSNBC, Obama said that he would like to consolidate several commerce-related government agencies, and that “we should have one secretary of business, instead of nine different departments that are dealing with things like giving loans . . . or helping companies with exports.”
Obama began closing remarks in his case for a second term in Green Bay, Wis., where he directed his words at disenchanted voters whose high expectations he has not met.
“You may not agree with every decision I’ve made,’’ he said. “You may be frustrated at the pace of change. But you know what I believe. You know where I stand. You know I’m willing to make tough decisions, even when they’re not politically convenient. And you know I’ll fight for you and your families every single day, as hard as I know how.”
Obama could have been speaking to Bloomberg, who said in his endorsement that he counts himself among those who “have found the past four years to be, in a word, disappointing.”
Nevertheless, Bloomberg wrote on his website that he will vote for Obama, in large part because he believes the president “will lead on climate change,” which Bloomberg suggested was a contributor to the damage wreaked on his city by Hurricane Sandy this week.
The mayor faulted Romney for policy changes since his earlier days in politics in Massachusetts, including “abandoning the very cap-and-trade program [on carbon emissions] he once supported” as an energy policy.
Romney has, on occasion, mocked Obama for his attention to climate change, such as during the Republican National Convention, when he said “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”
In Wisconsin, Obama blasted Romney for proposals to repeal health care reform, lower tax rates, and ease financial regulations.
“Governor Romney has been using all his talents as a salesman to dress up these very same policies that failed our country so badly, the very same policies we’ve been cleaning up after for the past four years. And he’s been offering them up as change,” Obama said.
“Well let me tell you, Wisconsin, we know what change looks like, and what the governor’s offering sure ain’t change,” the president added.
Thursday was Romney’s second day on the trail since Sandy devastated parts of the East Coast, but it was his first in typical campaign mode, aiming salvos directly at the president.
Obama met with with FEMA director Craig Fugate and other advisers Thursday morning before flying to his first campaign stop, and he spoke by phone with local officials in hard-hit areas later in the day.
After delivering remarks in Wisconsin, Obama visited Nevada and Colorado, part of an ambitious final tour of swing states.
The president will criss-cross the country over the weekend, visiting Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Virginia on Saturday, and New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, and Colorado on Sunday.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Thursday showed Obama leading by 6 percentage points in Iowa, 3 points in Wisconsin and 2 points in New Hampshire. All three states are closer than they were several weeks ago, the last time the survey was conducted.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, en route to Green Bay, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that Obama remains focused on storm relief, even as he resumes campaigning.
As if to emphasize his busy schedule, Obama bounded down the stairs of Air Force One and jogged across the tarmac, straight to a waiting podium, without his customary wade through a crowd.
Romney, making three stops in Virginia, painted a familiar portrait of Obama as a gifted speaker and well intentioned president who has not delivered on the promises of his original campaign for the White House. The national unemployment rate, 7.8 percent, remains more than two points higher than what Obama’s economic advisers forecast before he took office. Obama’s pledge to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term has gone unfulfilled.
Romney’s business-centered critique of Obama mirrored an ad his campaign released earlier in the day, which also panned Obama for his proposed secretary of business.
“His solution to everything is to add another bureaucrat,” a narrator says in the ad. “Why not have a president who actually understands business?”
Romney has presented his business acumen as the number-one reason why voters should elect him. The founder and former chief executive of Bain Capital, a Boston-based private equity firm, Romney has invested in and helped to steer companies in a wide range of industries.
The Obama campaign has consistently sought to undercut Romney’s claim that his private sector experience translates to public office. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney inherited a state economy that was losing jobs and left office with jobs growing, but the Obama campaign emphasizes that, overall, the Bay State ranked 47th in the country in job creation during Romney’s four-year term.
Even as Bloomberg threw his support behind Obama, he wrote that Romney “would bring valuable business experience to the Oval Office” and said the GOP nominee “understands that America was built on the promise of equal opportunity, not equal results.”
By contrast, Obama has “focused more on redistributing income than creating it,” Bloomberg said.