TAMPA, Fla.--Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday after superstorm Sandy forced a temporary suspension of both political campaigns, and opted to offer voters an optimistic vision for the future rather than attacking President Obama for failed leadership, as he typically does.
“You should know, I could not be in this race if I were not an optimist,” Romney told about 2,000 people who gathered to see him at a Tampa airport hangar. “I believe in the future of this country. I know we have huge challenges, but I’m not frightened by them--I’m invigorated by the challenge. We’re going to take on these challenges. We’re going to overcome them!”
Focusing on his 5-point economic plan and a message of reaching across the aisle, Romney promised to bring “real change and real reform” through his free-market-based policies and to find “common ground” with Democrats.
“I don’t just talk about change. I actually have a plan to execute change and to make it happen,” he said, referring to the president’s 2008 “hope and change” mantra. It was the closest he got to taking a swipe at Obama.
The Romney campaign also opted for low-key visuals at the Tampa rally, replacing its usual campaign signs promoting Romney’s slogans with a simple Romney-Ryan sign on the podium where Romney spoke. Two screens projected information about how to donate to the Red Cross relief effort.
Joining Romney was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who pointed out that the state had seen several hurricanes and tropical storms on his watch. Bush, who was known to give detailed hurricane-preparedness press conferences in both English and Spanish, suggested that leaders at the state and local level have the most impact on how well a state prepares for and responds to destructive storms.
“My experience in all this emergency-response business is that it is the local level and the state level that really matters,” Bush said, in a statement aimed at diluting any goodwill Obama is earning because of federal cleanup efforts post-storm. “That if they do their job right, the federal government part works out pretty good.”
During a Republican primary debate, Romney said he would be in favor of putting states in charge of the emergency response to storms and other disasters, rather than having the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge.
Campaigning in Eau Claire, Wis., Republican running mate Paul Ryan also took the rhetorical high road. He promised a "renaissance" across the world if Romney is elected. Noticeably absent from the vice presidential nominee’s speech were the usual attacks on Obama’s policies.
Before wrapping up the first of three scheduled rallies in the state on Wednesday, Romney encouraged people to get out and vote early, making the request three different times. A new CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday shows the race essentially tied in Florida; in Ohio, Obama is leading Romney 50 percent to 45 percent among likely voters. Among Floridians who have voted early, Obama is leading Romney, 50 percent to 44 percent.
Rebecca Kaplan contributed contributed to this article.