Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledged Wednesday to deliver the "real change" he says his Democratic opponent promised but has not achieved.
With President Barack Obama in New Jersey surveying storm damage, Romney softened his line of attack against the president. He did not mention Obama's name in his first two rallies in Florida — a third was planned in the evening — but in a race that polls show to be extremely close, he found an avenue to challenge Obama nonetheless.
"I don't just talk about change," Romney told an estimated 2,000 supporters at an airport rally before outlining general plans to improve the nation's economy. "I actually have a plan to execute change and make it happen."
Romney aides concede that the political balancing act is not over as the nation continues to focus on Hurricane Sandy's aftermath. The day before, Romney canceled some rallies and converted one into a storm relief event aimed at collecting donations for those in need.
Back on the campaign trail Wednesday, Romney encouraged Floridians to donate "a dollar or two" to storm victims across the East Coast.
"Today we wanted to make sure we kept a positive tone and talked about what the governor would hope to do on Day One of his presidency," adviser Kevin Madden said aboard Romney's campaign plane.
That's exactly what Romney did in campaign speeches in Tampa and Coral Gables that were stripped of his standard anti-Obama political jabs.
"We can't change the course of America if we keep on attacking each other. We have got to come together," the Republican told a largely Hispanic crowd inside the University of Miami basketball arena.
Earlier at the Tampa rally he said, "People coming together is what's also going to happen, I believe, on Nov. 7," a reference to the day after the election.
The Romney campaign stopped short of praising Obama's disaster-relief leadership, which New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, has described as "terrific."
"I refer to Gov. Christie's remarks. I believe the response is still going on, so I'm not in a position to qualify the response by the federal government," Madden said.
Obama, Christie make nice
For political junkies watching in New Jersey, Wednesday made for interesting optics.
Stepping onto the tarmac in Atlantic City, Obama greeted Christie, usually a Republican foe, with a smile and repeated pats on the back. They walked side by side, two leaders confronting trying times, toward the helicopter that took them high above Sandy's destruction. Later, they walked the storm-ravaged streets together, talking with Sandy's victims.
"I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and the people of our state."—Republican governor of New Jersey Chris Christie
"I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and the people of our state," Christie said later in Brigantine, N.J., praising what he called "a great working relationship" that started even before the storm hit. "Governor Christie throughout this process has been responsive. He's been aggressive in making sure the state got out in front of this incredible storm," Obama added, thanking the Republican for his "extraordinary leadership and partnership."
It's unclear how long the positive tone will last. Even on Wednesday in Florida, the speaker who introduced Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, couldn't help but jab the president. Bush's brother, former President George W. Bush, has been a frequent target of the Obama re-election effort because the economic meltdown began on his watch.
"Do you honestly think that this president is capable of bringing people together?" Bush asked as the crowd shouted, "No!" "His entire strategy is to blame others — starting with my brother, of course. Basically, he blames every possible thing rather than having the humility to be able to reach out and to find common ground."
The storm has created an air of uncertainty in Romney's Boston headquarters. Aides report that their internal polling offers a better outlook than recent public polling that gives Obama an edge in some swing states, but they concede that the national distraction has frozen any momentum Romney had coming out of the presidential debates.
At the same time, the campaign is sketching a schedule for the final days of the campaign. Madden said it was unclear whether Romney would visit any storm-ravaged areas.
Romney is expected to campaign in Virginia on Thursday and Ohio on Friday after a brief stop in Wisconsin. The campaign is planning to host an Ohio rally Friday evening featuring dozens of Republican officials to launch a four-day sprint to Election Day. On Saturday, Romney heads to swing state Colorado.