ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- President Barack Obama jetted to storm-stricken New Jersey on Wednesday for a first-hand look at the devastation, as his aides tried to keep overt politics at bay for one more day.
Still, with Election Day less than a week away, Obama's visit was layered with political implications. The deadly storm has given Obama an opportunity to project presidential leadership in the final days of the tightly contested White House race. And Obama's tour guide in New Jersey was the state's Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a supporter of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
To the chagrin of some Republicans, Christie has lavished praise on Obama for his efforts in helping states dealing with the storm.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said there were no political motivations behind Obama's decision to join his supporter's rival Wednesday.
This is not a time for politics, Carney said. The president appreciates the efforts of governors, state and local officials across the various states that were affected by the storm regardless of political party.
Christie was on hand to greet Obama as Air Force One landed on a sunny, breezy day in Atlantic City. The two men, along with FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, boarded Marine One for an hour-long aerial tour of the storm damage.
Obama stopped by FEMA headquarters in Washington before heading to New Jersey.
Wednesday marked Obama's third straight day off the campaign trail. He canceled rallies across four battleground states and retreated to the White House to oversee the government's storm response.
Obama planned to return to the campaign trail Thursday, with stops planned in Green Bay, Wis., Las Vegas and Boulder, Colo. He planned to be on the road campaigning every day through the Nov. 6 election.
I don't just talk about change. I actually have a plan to execute change and make it happen, Romney told about 2,000 people gathered in a hangar at Tampa's airport.
Romney scheduled stops in some of the most populous parts of the state, with rallies also planned in Jacksonville and Coral Gables in the Miami area on Wednesday. The Obama campaign dispatched Biden to play defense in Florida on Wednesday, with stops in the smaller, more conservative markets of Sarasota and Ocala aimed at narrowing the margin where Republicans usually fare well.
Ryan was campaigning across his home state of Wisconsin before planning to take his children trick or treating. Wisconsin is part of the Romney-Ryan campaign's eleventh-hour strategy of trying to put Democratic-leaning states in play and forcing Obama to shift resources to areas he has expected to win.
In tempered remarks, Ryan never explicitly criticized Obama and asked for prayers and donations for storm victims. The move reflected advice from his top aides to eschew partisanship for fear of appearing too shrill and strike a more civil tone in his critique of the president heading into the heart of the crisis. Plus, Romney and Ryan are still making attempts to win over moderate and undecided voters who have little patience for unbridled partisanship.
Ryan argued that Wisconsin was a battleground that will help decide the election and urged supporters to work hard for the next week so they have no regrets. When we wake up a week from this morning, let's make sure we did everything we could, Ryan said.
Rather than use the campaign's final Wednesday to woo voters in tossup states, Obama donned hiking shoes for a disaster tour with Christie, one of Romney's most prominent supporters and a frequent Obama critic. But Christie praised Obama's handling of the storm, a political twist the president's visit is sure to underscore.
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden declined to echo Christie's positive reviews.
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 aboard Romney's campaign plane. At the same, he said Romney would continue to moderate his tone while campaigning in Florida while Obama toured the damage in New Jersey.
Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said the president and his campaign agreed that his job was to stay in Washington in face-to-face touch with those responsible for recovery.
But Axelrod added: We passed a threshold here. And we do have an election on Tuesday. So we owe it to folks to make the final arguments and we're going to do that.
Overall, though, Axelrod said the superstorm tended to freeze this race. Wherever you think the race is, it tended to freeze the race. Because people are focused on the storm. That's what's been in the news.