After a two-day hiatus as Superstorm Sandy moved through a dozen states on the East Coast and northeastern United States, Republican Mitt Romney resumed his campaign for president Wednesday in the state the biggest prize among the swing states: Florida. Without the Sunshine State's 29 electoral votes, Romney will have an uphill and limited path to electoral victory.
On the stage of Metropolitan Park edged by pumpkins and flanked by Red Cross banners, Romney took a softer tone as he tried to close the deal with voters.
"We face some real challenges, but I have to tell you good things are going to happen in America, and I’m optimistic about our future. I understand what it takes to get this country going again and bring back the kind of greatness that we depend upon," Romney told a crowd estimated at more than a thousand. "You see, I actually have a plan for getting America back, and for strengthening our foundation, and my plan creates some 12 million jobs, and that, by the way, creates more take home pay, which people badly need."
It was Romney's third Florida stop of the day, having delivered a similar, positive message to crowds in Tampa and Coral Gables. He mentioned the trauma the country was going through from Superstorm Sandy, "the kind of trauma you've experienced here in Florida more than once."
Romney avoided mentioning his opponent by name, but did blame the current administration's policies for failing to tun the country's economy around.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush and congressman and U.S. Senate hopeful Connie Mack, spoke before Romney took the stage at this Halloween night "victory rally."
It was Romney's fourth visit to Jacksonville this year.
“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 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,” Romney said.
Supporters soaked up every word.
"I think that he hit things right on the point," Cecelia Beinkamben said after the speech. "I think he’s got a plan, he’s got focus, he’s got a vision and we’re just real excited to follow him and see where it leads us."
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.
First Lady Michelle Obama will speak at a midday Thursday rally at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, then move on to Daytona Beach and Miami. Doors open for that event at 9:30 a.m. and Stevie Wonder is scheduled to appear before the first lady's remarks.
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."