ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - In a close and bitterly fought campaign for the White Hous, it was a day of contrasts: US President Barack Obama joined New Jersey's Republican governor to tour storm-ravaged areas, while election rival Mitt Romney was relegated to a subdued day of rallies in Florida.
The devastation wrought by mammoth storm Sandy allowed Obama to project an image of a president in charge at a time of crisis. Tied in polls six days before the election, he is fighting to gain an edge over Republican Romney whose recent momentum may be slowing.
The Democrat took a helicopter tour of the damage in New Jersey with Governor Chris Christie, a high-profile Romney supporter who has nevertheless praised Obama lavishly in the last two days for expediting federal storm relief.
With Christie at his side, Obama promised quick federal aid.
"We're not going to tolerate red tape, we're not going to tolerate bureaucracy," he said.
In unusually warm remarks, Christie again lauded Obama.
"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," he said, later thanking the president for his "compassion."
His comments were all the more remarkable given that Christie, normally a hard-nosed partisan, was the keynote speaker at the Republican convention in August and has often accompanied Romney at rallies.
Obama clung to a slender lead in most of the swing states that will decide who captures the 270 electoral votes needed to win.
He scrapped three days of campaign events this week to deal with the storm, a move that may in fact improve his standing with voters. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found eight in 10 voters gave Obama an "excellent" or "good" rating for his handling of the emergency.
Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden, asked by reporters whether he agreed with Christie that Obama was doing a good job handling the hurricane response, said: "I believe the response is still going on so I'm not in a position to qualify the response by the federal government. I believe it's still ongoing."
Visiting the swing state of Florida, Romney had to tone down his remarks for a second consecutive day in order to avoid appearing too political after the storm that crippled transportation, knocked out power for millions and killed 64 people on the eastern seaboard.
Rather than blasting Obama for what he typically calls failures to turn around the economy, Romney did not mention his rival's name, instead saying a change in course is needed and that he would bring Americans together if elected.
"Look, we can't go on the road we're on, we can't change course in America if we keep on attacking each other. We have got to come together," he said in Coral Gables.
Polls tight with a slight edge for Obama
Sandy forced the presidential race into a deep freeze, just as Romney was gathering steam in the last leg toward the Nov. 6 Romney.
Both campaigns will be back in full swing on Thursday when Romney travels to Virginia and Obama begins a two-day trip to Colorado, Ohio and Nevada.
A Reuters/Ipsos national online tracking survey, like most other similar polls, found the race effectively tied, with Obama on 47 percent to 46 percent for Romney.
The rivals were also neck and neck in four of the most hotly contested states, but Obama holds a slight advantage in two of them. The online Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Obama leading by 3 percentage points in Ohio and 2 points in Virginia. The two are dead even in Florida, and Romney leads by 1 percentage point in Colorado.
Another poll, by Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS News, showed Obama with slight leads within the margin of error in Virginia and Florida, and a 5-point edge over Romney in the vital battleground of Ohio.
A Romney loss in Ohio would make his electoral math very difficult, and his campaign has aired new ads in recent days in Democratic-leaning Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan in an effort to put those states in play.
Recent polls have shown all three states tightening in what the Romney camp calls a sign of momentum. The Obama campaign said the move to expand the electoral map was a sign of desperation but launched its own ads in those states to counter Romney.