Mitt Romney arrives for a campaign event in Virginia. Both candidates returned… (David Goldman, Associated…)
The afterglow of post-Sandy bipartisanship lingered briefly in the air of the presidential campaign Thursday, then vaporized as President Obama and his challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, threw themselves back into the political fray for a final push before Tuesday's election.
Obama began the day by suggesting that the spirit of cooperation that emerged after the storm might serve as a template for how the nation can be governed over the next four years. Speaking to a crowd in Green Bay, Wis., Obama praised the "leaders of different parties working to fix what's broken."
"There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm," Obama said. "There are just fellow Americans."
The words seemed clearly to refer to New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie, with whom the president forged an unexpectedly friendly working relationship after the storm. They also harked back to the speech that a relatively unknown Barack Obama delivered to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, in which he said there is no red or blue America, just "the United States of America."
And they came on a day in which Obama was endorsed by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Democrat turned Republican who most recently ran for office as an independent.
But the bipartisanship didn't last.
As the day rolled on, Romney went on the offensive against Obama, Obama returned fire, and both sides released television commercials that offered new lines of attack against the other.
Speaking in Roanoke, Va., Romney criticized Obama's proposal to consolidate various federal agencies and create a Cabinet-level position to oversee business, saying the idea reflected the president's lack of understanding of how to create jobs and rekindle the economy.
"I don't think adding a new chair in his Cabinet will help add millions of jobs on Main Street," Romney told supporters gathered in a window factory. "We don't need a secretary of business to understand business — we need a president who understands business, and I do."
The comments by Romney marked a return to criticizing Obama on the campaign trail, which the GOP nominee halted during Sandy and its immediate aftermath. He repeated his statement that the president's slogan of "Forward" ought to be "Forewarned."
He also paid a visit to a shuttered barbecue joint in Richmond, Va., that his campaign used for a commercial that attacks Obama's handling of the economy. Romney posed for photos as he spoke to Rhoda Elliott, whose uncle founded Bill's Barbecue.
"So what happened?" Romney asked her.
Elliott said the family business, which once included 13 restaurants, began declining six years ago, which would have been during the administration of President George W. Bush. "Five years ago it rippled a little more," she said. "And then it really hit, and from there things just got rougher and rougher, the taxes, federal regulations — the food regulations themselves cost each independent restaurant thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars."
Romney mostly listened, occasionally interjecting, "Yeah," as she spoke. The conversation underlined points he has made about stewardship of the economy, and reinforced the Web ad featuring Bill's Barbecue, one of multiple new ads that attempt to sum up the case against Obama.
The Obama campaign also launched a new ad, a second television spot challenging Romney's ads about the auto industry outsourcing jobs from Ohio to China. The new ad attempts to raise questions about Romney's character.
It highlights statements from fact checkers and General Motors and Chrysler executives disputing the Romney spot, which implies that the auto companies were moving jobs to China during Obama's tenure. The companies say they added jobs in China to serve the Asian auto market, but have continued hiring in this country.
"We know the truth, Mitt," the ad reads as it shows a clip of Romney reciting the headline from the op-ed article he wrote that has come to haunt him: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
In talking about the ad, Obama campaign officials made it clear that it was intended as more than just a factual rebuke. "This raises a character issue," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg responded: "President Obama can't run from the facts. As a result of his handling of the auto bailout, American taxpayers stand to lose $25 billion, and GM and Chrysler are expanding their production overseas."
Parsons reported from North Las Vegas, Nev., and Reston and Mehta from Virginia.
Staff writers Mitchell Landsberg in Los Angeles and Kathleen Hennessey in Washington contributed to this report.