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america’s choice

U.S. President Barack Obama hugs North Point Marina owner Donna Vanzant as he tours damage done by Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, N.J., with Governor Chris Christie, left, Oct. 31, 2012.Larry Downing/Reuters

As much of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard began the task of undoing the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy, work also resumed on campaigning for the presidency.

Time is of the essence, with just five days remaining until the presidential polls close, but the closely matched candidates appeared careful to bring their campaigns back online slowly. That handed an advantage of visibility to President Barack Obama, who also received support from an unlikely quarter.

In hard-hit New Jersey, Mr. Obama flew over the destruction in the company of the state's governor, Chris Christie, a hard-nosed partisan Republican who gave the keynote speech at the convention in August that made Mitt Romney the GOP candidate.

"It's really important to have the President of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that's going on here in New Jersey and I appreciate it very much," Mr. Christie said during a visit to the Brigantine Beach Community Center in Brigantine, N.J., north of Atlantic City.

Touring a waterfront area, Mr. Obama and Mr. Christie met a tearful Donna Vanzant, the owner of the marina. "It'll be okay," the President said, hugging her.

"Everyone's safe, right? That's the most important thing."

Mr. Romney restarted his campaign with a relatively quiet day of rallies in Florida, delivering speeches that toned down the combative rhetoric and omitted Mr. Obama's name entirely.

The after-effects of Sandy may overshadow politics for days to come, but both campaigns are expected to resume their full pace by Thursday as Mr. Romney travels to Virginia and Mr. Obama begins a two-day trip to Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado and Ohio.

On Ohio's battered north shore, life is returning to normal – and that means political life, with the people of Ohio struggling to cope with a tidal wave of TV and radio ads pummelling the other candidate.

The state's 18 Electoral College votes are very much in play. Surveys this week show the two candidates very close in popular support in the state with Mr. Obama said to be leading Mr. Romney by between two and five percentage points among likely voters. A month ago, Mr. Obama's lead was twice as large.

According to a survey by Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News of likely voters who say they are "paying a lot of attention to the race," Mr. Obama's edge narrows to one percentage point, or essentially tied with Mr. Romney. The qualification suggests a group with a greater likelihood of actually voting.

The crucial group for the President is Ohio's blue-collar voters. With substantial numbers of traditionally Democratic coal workers in the southeast turning against Mr. Obama because of his efforts to limit the use of coal-fired power plants, it is important that he hold his own in another historically Democratic region, Ohio's northeast, especially around Cleveland.

Mr. Obama holds a large lead among black voters, and Mr. Romney a lead among white voters with college degrees, but the latest poll shows Mr. Obama nearly even with Mr. Romney among white voters who do not have college degrees. This is the group the President must impress and get out to vote.

The battle at this late stage is largely being waged by advertisements, with each campaign seemingly filling every available moment of airtime on radio and television. Many of the ads focus on the administration's rescue of the auto industry.

Obama ads portray Mr. Romney as a job killer who would have let the Detroit car companies go bankrupt and fail.

Romney ads counter by arguing that the $80-billion bailout has been for the benefit of China since General Motors and Chrysler are opening production facilities in that country.

Auto executives waded in this week, clarifying the reports of production taking place in China, insisting these were to produce vehicles for the Chinese market and they did not come at the expense of jobs in the United States.

Romney campaign officials say they stand by their ads.

Mr. Romney also has gone on the offensive with several television ads featuring women commenting on economic issues and Mr. Obama's performance. A new Romney ad shown here this week explains that the ex-Massachusetts governor, a Mormon, is not opposed to contraception as alleged by Obama ads. In fact, the Romney ad says, the Republican even would allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother.

The big issue, however, remains the economy, especially among the working class.

"I've been a small businessman all my life," says George Jacobs, a gas-station owner in Rocky River, west of Cleveland, "and the regulations are killing me. It's harder and harder to make a living."

"I've always been a Democrat," he says, "but I'm now voting for Romney."

George Kotash, a stone cutter who works with marble and granite, disagrees. While acknowledging that business remains very slow, he still will support Mr. Obama. "It's better the devil we know," he says. "I haven't a clue what Romney would do if he was elected."

"I can't support either of them," says Mark Bauer a 53-year-old builder who spends his time these days kite surfing on the Cleveland waterfront, even in the wild wind and waves of Hurricane Sandy's aftermath.

"Business is terrible," he said, "but it's not Obama's fault." Still he refuses to support the President.

"The only thing that matters is that we get out of Afghanistan," he said emphatically. "I've got friends – fellow boarders – serving there. One's a helicopter gunner and they fight every single day.

"What for? The Taliban will be back as soon as we leave. So why are we waiting?"

With 120,000 people in the Greater Cleveland area still without power, and work crews in bright yellow rain gear cutting up fallen trees and reconnecting power lines, the children of this area had their own disappointment Wednesday: In most neighbourhoods here Halloween trick-or-treating has been postponed until Saturday or Sunday.

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