TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledged Wednesday to deliver the “real change” he says his Democratic opponent promised but has not achieved.
With President Barack Obama in New Jersey surveying storm damage, Romney softened his line of attack against the president. And in a remarkable move just six days before Election Day, he did not mention Obama’s name in any of his three rallies across Florida.
But in a race that polls show to be extremely close, the Republican candidate found an avenue to challenge Obama nonetheless.
“I don’t just talk about change,” Romney told an estimated 2,000 supporters at an airport rally before outlining general plans to improve the nation’s economy. “I actually have a plan to execute change and make it happen.”
Later, at an evening rally in Jacksonville, he called for a new direction without naming the man he usually blames for the nation’s ills: “These are tough time for the people of America,” he told a rowdy crowd of more than 4,000.
Romney aides concede that the political balancing act is not over as the nation continues to focus on Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath. The day before, Romney canceled some rallies and converted one into a storm relief event aimed at collecting donations for those in need.
Back on the campaign trail Wednesday, Romney encouraged Floridians to donate “a dollar or two” to storm victims across the East Coast.
“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 in Tampa and Coral Gables 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,” the Republican told a largely Hispanic crowd inside the University of Miami basketball arena.
“When there are challenges, we come together.”
Earlier at the Tampa rally he said, “People coming together is what’s also going to happen, I believe, on Nov. 7,” a reference to the day after the election.
The Romney campaign stopped short of praising Obama’s disaster-relief leadership, which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has described as “terrific.”
“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.
It’s unclear how long the positive tone will last. Even on Wednesday, the speaker who introduced Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, couldn’t help but jab the president. Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, has been a frequent target of the Obama re-election effort because the economic meltdown began on his watch.
“Do you honestly think that this president is capable of bringing people together?” Bush asked as the crowd shouted, “No!” ”His entire strategy is to blame others – starting with my brother, of course. Basically, he blames every possible thing rather than having the humility to be able to reach out and to find common ground.”
The storm has created an air of uncertainty in Romney’s Boston headquarters. Aides report that their internal polling offers a better outlook than recent public polling that gives Obama an edge in some swing states, but they concede that the national distraction has frozen any momentum Romney had coming out of the presidential debates.
At the same time, the campaign is sketching a schedule for the final days of the campaign. Madden said it was unclear whether Romney would visit any storm-ravaged areas.
Romney is expected to campaign in Virginia on Thursday and Ohio on Friday after a brief stop in Wisconsin. The campaign is planning to host an Ohio rally Friday evening featuring dozens of Republican officials to launch a four-day sprint to Election Day. On Saturday, Romney heads to swing state Colorado.
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