October 27, 2012 11:53:33 PM
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Juggling politics and storm preparations, Mitt Romney dangled a plea for bipartisanship before early voters in Florida on Saturday as Barack Obama worked to nail down tiny New Hampshire's four electoral votes. Both campaigns scrambled to steer clear of a most unlikely October surprise, a superstorm barreling up the East Coast.
With just 10 days left in an extraordinarily tight race, Hurricane Sandy had both campaigns ripping up carefully mapped-out itineraries as they worked to maximize voter turnout and avoid any suggestion that they were putting politics ahead of public safety.
The campaigns pressed every possible angle in search of advantage -- even paying attention to punctuation.
Obama's campaign signs for months have said: "Forward." Now they say: "Forward!"
Romney, who has been striking a more moderate tone as he courts women and independents in the campaign's home stretch, campaigned across Florida with a pledge to "build bridges" with the other party.
He coupled that message with digs at Obama for "shrinking from the magnitude of the times" and advancing an agenda that lacks vision. Noting that Obama supporters like to chant "four more years" at the president's campaign rallies, Romney picked up on his crowd's own chant at the Pensacola Civic Center and said: "I like '10 more days' a lot better."
His warm-up act was more biting: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told the crowd that Obama was advancing "the ideas of countries that people come here to get away from." Pressed later on what countries he was referring to, Rubio said, "any big-government country in the world" and specifically referred to Mexico and Latin America.
Obama hauled his campaign to New Hampshire, where he told volunteers at a Teamsters hall in Manchester that: "We don't know how this thing is going to play out. These four electoral voters right here could make all the difference."
It takes 270 electoral votes to win the election. Obama is ahead in states and the District of Columbia representing 237 electoral votes; Romney has a comfortable lead in states with 191 electoral votes. The rest lie in nine contested states that are too close to call, New Hampshire among them.
The president adjusted his campaign speech at a Nashua rally to appeal to voters in low-tax New Hampshire, hammering Romney for raising taxes and fees as governor of neighboring Massachusetts.
Obama accused Romney of running in Massachusetts on a pledge to lower taxes, then making life more expensive for the middle class after taking office.
"All he's offering is a big rerun of the same policies," Obama told a crowd of 8,500 gathered at an outdoor rally on an unseasonably warm October day.
The president said Romney even raised fees in Massachusetts on obtaining a birth certificate, "which would have been expensive for me." It was a veiled reference to opponents of the president who have incorrectly said he was born outside the United States. Copies of his birth certificate have been in high demand.
The candidates worked to lock down every possible early vote without intruding on emergency preparations as the storm's expected track looked to affect at least four battleground states: North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire.
Romney scrapped plans to campaign in Virginia today, and switched his schedule for the day to Ohio. At a rally in Kissimee, Fla., he urged supporters to keep those in the storm's path "in your mind and in your hearts."