And they're back! President Obama returns to the stump on Thursday, after leaving the campaign trail for three days to lead the federal response to Hurricane Sandy. Mitt Romney also canceled many scheduled events due to the storm, but got back in the game a day earlier with Wednesday rallies in Florida. The forced hiatus left both candidates scrambling to squeeze in as much time as possible in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and other pivotal swing states — and to adjust their message to strike the right tone with voters as a huge swath of the country recovers from a devastating disaster. How did this massive storm alter the campaign's last few days? Here, three key consequences:
1. Obama's performance gave him a boost
Likely voters "of all political stripes" gave Obama high marks for his handling of Hurricane Sandy, says Gary Langer at ABC News. Seventy-eight percent rated his performance as "excellent" or good, with just eight percent reacting negatively, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. "Whether it makes a difference in the long-deadlocked presidential election is another question." In a race as close as this, any chance for Obama to show such strong leadership could make a difference, says David Jackson at USA Today. If nothing else, "it's hard to see how the storm reaction hurts Obama."
2. Romney couldn't hammer Obama's record for three days
Romney has made big gains by attacking Obama's handling of the economy. With the storm pounding the mid-Atlantic coast, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour tells Politico, the media observed a three-day "virtual blackout" of coverage on "anything about the economy or jobs, spending, deficits or debts, and that's the Obama campaign's dream." Democrats have been trying to "change the subject" from Obama's policies and their effects all year. The campaign is resuming, but — with only five days of speeches, rallies, and ads left before decision day — the question is, what will the residual effects of this press blackout be?
3. Obama and Romney went positive, at least temporarily
"Superstorm Sandy will wash away some of the strong partisan rhetoric from the campaign trail, at least for one more day," says Jim Acosta at CNN. Romney aides said he aimed to strike a "positive" tone when he returned to the stump Wednesday. Meanwhile, Democrats said that Obama, who'd been slamming his GOP rival for abandoning conservative positions due to a case of "Romnesia," would adopt a more "affirmative" message in his final tour of key swing states. But the "detente" imposed by Sandy won't last, says Abby D. Phillip at ABC News, judging by the sharp exchanges between Vice President Joe Biden and Paul Ryan this week. Biden slammed Team Romney for a "dishonest" ad claiming that jobs producing Chrysler's Jeeps had gone to China, and Ryan shot back that the ad is very much based in reality. That's "likely to be a preview of campaign events to come."