Welcome to a summary of US election coverage of a day when President Barack Obama had the luxury of dominating television screens without having to pay an extra cent in advertising, while his opponent Mitt Romney was forced into an uncomfortable position in the wings of a great drama.
In the Financial Times, Alan Rappeport reports from Atlantic City that Mr Obama’s position as incumbent gave him the opportunity not only to be pictured coming to the aid of a storm-battered New Jersey, but also inspecting damage alongside the state’s governor, Chris Christie, who has been one of Mr Romney’s main surrogates in attacking the president.
The fallout from the devastating storm restrained the campaign of Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, who returned to campaigning in Florida but focused his speeches on the economy rather than personal criticism of Mr Obama.
Alongside the rescue effort, Mr Romney faced awkward questions about his promise during the Republican primaries to hand responsibility for disasters to the states, while privatising some of the functions.
A spokeswoman for Mr Romney said on Wednesday that the candidate believed the Federal Emergency Management Agency had a “key role” in working with states and localities to respond to natural disasters and promised the body would be properly funded.
The FT adds that, with the outcome so finely balanced, both candidates are planning to dash across the country’s battleground states once the race is fully unfrozen on Thursday in the final days for campaigning.
Casting its eye away from the problems on its own doorstep, the New York Daily News reports on Mr Romney’s trip to Florida, where he delivered a nuanced message.
He visited three cities across the Sunshine State, mixing his appeal for votes with a new message of unity, out of respect to those still struggling with the storm.
“We come together at times like these. Now people coming together is what’s also going to happen on Nov. 7,” said Romney, flanked by two Republican powerhouses in Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Romney never mentioned President Obama’s name during a rally in Tampa, but he argued that the Republican ticket would deliver the change the country needs.
As the election enters its final days, it is clear the country is having a tough time making a choice. The RealClearPolitics.com rolling average of polls has the two men in a dead heat, with Mr Romney losing his marginal lead in the immediate aftermath of the superstorm Sandy that hit the northeast coast on Monday.
Two national polls, by Fox News and ABC/Washington Post, also show the pair locked in a tie. In key swing states Iowa, Virginia and Florida there is an equally unclear picture: in each case, two polls were released on Wednesday that gave different results with small leads for each man, suggesting pollsters do not have a sharp enough instrument to divine the outcome.
In Ohio, two polls show the president with a narrow advantage. The Cleveland Plain Dealer says the state will choose the next president on Tuesday and gives a detailed account of how the two sides are preparing to mobilise potential voters in the last few days. It says that turnout will be the critical factor.
Gallup has some interesting figures trying to predict that turnout:
One striking feature, which Gallup does not highlight, but perhaps has broader significance for all pollsters, is the gap between those who said they were certain to vote – the middle column – and those who actually did – on the right. It shows that each year, with the exception of 1996, when Bill Clinton cruised to re-election in a historically low turn-out, the proportion of voters who told Gallup they would certainly vote, but didn’t, grew slightly.
This uncertainty is underlined with some candour by Time magazine’s veteran political writer Joe Klein, who told Politico.com: “The problem is: there are so many variables. And now, with the storm, turnout may become an issue in closer Obama-leaning states like Pennsylvania.”
He added: “Polling is inexact, especially with the cell phone factor—not enough data over time for pollsters to be absolutely sure they’re getting it right.”
In his own column, Klein added recently:
Over the past week, everyone’s been asking me who’s going to win. Beats me. I really don’t know. The polls seem stalled, hilariously inconclusive. The race is frozen, more or less, for the next few days–except for the advertising. It remains to be seen whether, in the absence of any other news except the storm, Mitt Romney’s wildly misleading new auto ad will prove to be a problem for him in Ohio and other midwestern states, where people credit the President with having saved their jobs more than they discredit Romney for having opposed Obama’s plan.