An almost bubbly Mitt Romney roared back onto the campaign trail yesterday, striking a tone of optimism and hope before a crowd of several hundred in a hangar not far from the thundering runways at Tampa Airport and portraying himself as primed for the job of president. With “clear eyes and full hearts,” his team would win, he said.
“I know we have huge challenges, but I’m not frightened of them. I’m invigorated by the challenge,” Mr Romney declared after being introduced to loud cheers by the Florida duo of Senator Marco Rubio and former Governor Jeb Bush. After making only a brief reference at the start to the victims of the super-storm in the northeast, he barrelled right back into his stump speech trumpeting his five-point plan for the country and the economy.
His appearance in Tampa marked the formal end of the brief electioneering hiatus that came in the aftermath of the storm. But while Mr Romney decided to shift gears back to full campaign mode, President Barack Obama chose to spend yesterday playing the role that perhaps might benefit him more – that of commander-in-chief tending to the aftermath of Monday night’s disaster touring devastated areas of New Jersey.
Aides travelling with Mr Romney privately indicated here that they are remain unconcerned that most of the battleground state polls, including here in Florida and in pivotal Ohio, continue show at best a tie or a tiny lead for Mr Obama. “The challenger is never ahead of the incumbent” at this stage in a close race, one advisor said, arguing that on Tuesday Mr Romney will emerge as the victor in several of the states that will decide the election.
Mr Obama took to the air to witness the coastal damage first hand in New Jersey with the state’s governor, Chris Christie, who has made waves of his own in the campaign generously praising the president of his efforts to handle the storm response even though he is a Republican and a top supporter of Mr Romney.
Large electronic billboards on either side of the rally here urged the crowd to give $10 to the Red Cross for Sandy victims and Mr Romney began by asking his supporters to give generously. “It’s quite a time for this country,” Mr Romney said with a touch of odd understatement. “We are going through a trauma in part of the country.”
But otherwise, there was no pretence this was anything but a campaign event through and through. “It’s all political now,” said Bill Kane, a Republican voter here in Tampa whose wife is from Gibraltar. “By this afternoon it will be down and dirty again between them, you will see.”
It is unclear what impact the decision by Mr Obama to suspend his campaign will have. His high profile in the past 72 hours and endorsements from people like Mr Christie, may have helped him more than any amount of TV spots or traditional rallies, however. This morning, though, he will return to the fray in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
One of the biggest cheers here was for Jeb Bush, who some Republicans saw as the preferred candidate when Mr Romney was battling for the nomination last winter. “Mitt Romney is made for the job of President of the United States,” Mr Bush suggested. “Job one on day one will be to restore sustained economic growth for this country.”
At times Mr Romney reached for the kind of uplifting tone that Mr Obama harnessed four years ago. “I believe that this is the year to take a different course,” he proclaimed. Lamenting that 47 million Americans are currently on food stamps, he said: “I will bring real change. I don’t just talk about change, I actually have a plan to execute change.”