President Barack Obama returned to full-force campaigning today, ending a three-day pause to manage the federal response to the historic storm that battered the East Coast. He holds slim leads in many of the key US battleground states five days before the November 6 election.
Polling, however, also shows Mr Obama locked in a tie nationwide with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who tempered his criticism of the president this week to avoid the appearance of seeking political advantage in the midst of a natural disaster.
Both candidates faced a day of trying to strike the right tone in an intensely stressful race. Mr Romney aimed at patriotism and the heartland in his first speech of the day, mentioning Boy Scouts, football, "America the Beautiful" and the flag.
Mr Romney also returned to criticism of Mr Obama on economic issues, the most important in this election. The last of the closely watched monthly unemployment reports comes out tomorrow. Last month's report said unemployment had dipped below the psychological barrier of 8 %.
At his first stop of the day in Wisconsin, Mr Obama returned to the aftermath of the storm, saying he saw yet again "that there are no Democrats or Republicans in a storm. There are just Americans." He implicitly reminded his audience of Mr Romney's habit of making dramatic changes on issues.
"You know what I believe. You know where I stand. You know that I'll make tough political decisions even when they are not popular," Mr Obama said. "After all we've been through together, we can't give up now."
Obama spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said the president remains focused on the storm recovery, but must resume campaigning because of the "reality" of Tuesday's election and the need to continue making the case for Americans to give him four more years in the White House.
Mr Obama's lead in a majority of the nine so-called battleground states could determine the outcome. Those states are neither reliably Republican nor Democratic, giving them outsized importance in the US system for choosing the president.
The winner is not the candidate with the most popular votes nationwide but the one who manages to accumulate at least 270 electoral votes in state-by-state contests. Those votes are determined by a combination of a state's population and representation in Congress.
Despite a Romney surge nationwide after the three presidential debates, polling shows Mr Obama holding on to leads in enough of the all-important swing states - most notably Ohio - to win at least the necessary 270 electors. No Republican candidate for the White House has ever won the election without capturing Ohio.