The storm added yet another element of uncertainty, as Obama spent a third straight day embracing his role as incumbent and Romney tried to tread lightly during a major East Coast disaster.
The president received a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency across town from the White House before flying to New Jersey, where the shoreline absorbed some of the worst damage in a storm that killed 50 and laid waste to New York City's electrical and transportation systems.
Gov. Chris Christie was waiting when Air Force One landed, and he and Obama, two figures in blue windbreakers, walked together toward the president's helicopter to begin their tour. It was a tableau that seemed impossible a week ago — a president struggling to defend his economic record in a tight election, flying off to a non-battleground state to spend the afternoon in the company of the man who delivered the keynote address at Romney's Republican National Convention this summer.
The storm forced an abrupt change in Romney's campaign, as well.
A spokesman, Kevin Madden, told reporters the president's challenger maintained a "positive tone and talked about what the governor would hope to do on day one of his presidency.
Romney told his crowd in Tampa, "We love all of our fellow citizens. We come together at times like this, and we want to make sure that they have a speedy and quick recovery from their financial and, in many cases, personal loss." His criticism of Obama was glancing. "I don't just talk about change. I actually have a plan to execute change and make it happen."
But the clash was ferocious over Romney's broadcast ads. The radio version said that after Obama's auto bailout, General Motors "cut 15,000 American jobs, but they are planning to double the number of cars built in China which means 15,000 more jobs for China.