TAMPA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney offered sunny optimism about the nation's future -- and no direct criticism of President Obama -- as the GOP presidential nominee returned to the campaign trail Wednesday after a pause in stumping as Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast.
Romney, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaking at a morning airplane hangar rally here, prefaced their remarks with thoughts about the victims of the major storm that killed dozens and left parts of the Eastern Seaboard underwater.
"We're going through trauma in a major part of the country -- the kind of trauma you've experienced here in Florida more than once," Romney said, before he gestured at signs urging people to text donations to the Red Cross. "Please, if you have an extra dollar or two, send them along and keep the people who are in harm's -- who have been in harm’s way, who've been damaged either personally or through their property, keep them in your thoughts and prayers. We love all of our fellow citizens."
Bush recalled that in 2004 and 2005, Florida faced eight hurricanes and four tropical storms that resulted in $100 billion in property damage and millions of resident left without electricity.
"I hope that you all will do what you can to help your fellow man in New Jersey and New York and all these places that were so helpful to us just six years ago," he said.
As Obama prepared to tour storm-damaged portions of New Jersey, Romney did not mention or attack him once, a departure from his typical stump speech that an advisor said was prompted by two factors: that people are still being affected by the storm, and that Romney wants to close his campaign with a positive message about what he would do on day one of his presidency.
Instead, he argued that the nation needs a new direction to deal with chronic unemployment, unacceptable levels of poverty and government dependence, and a lull in business start-ups.
"I believe that this is time for America to take a different course, that this should be a turning point for our country," he said. " ... I will bring real change and real reform and a presidency that brings us together."
Romney reiterated his five-point plan, which he says will create 12 million jobs, and noted his collaboration with a Democratic Legislature while he was governor of Massachusetts, a theme of bipartisanship that he has been stressing recently as he tries to appeal to Democratic and independent voters.
For his five-point plan to be enacted, "it’s going to require something that Washington talks about but hasn't done in a long, long time and that is truly reach across the aisle and find good Democrats and good Republicans that will come together and find common ground and work in the interest of the American people, not just in the interest of politics," Romney said as the crowd of 2,000 cheered. "It's gotta happen. It's gotta happen."
Despite the talk of bipartisanship and Americans coming together, Romney's storm response has a partisan flavor -- he has spoken with the Republican governors of states that have been affected -- Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania -- but not the Democratic governors of New York, Connecticut or Maryland.
Romney concluded the hangar rally by saying that he was confident that the nation's course could be righted and urging his supporters to head to the polls in six days.
"You should know I could not be in this race if I were not an optimist. 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," he said. "We are a can-do, hardworking, optimistic, innovative, creative people, and we need leaders who draw on those skills and those propensities to get this country going again."
The Obama campaign noted that while Romney is presenting a positive message on the stump, he is airing ads in Ohio that have been widely criticized as misleading.
"Mitt Romney made a lot of promises in Tampa about bringing change, but we know that we can't trust a word he says. Not only would he return to the failed policies of the past, but he also has resorted to running on outright falsehoods in the closing days of this campaign," said spokeswoman Lis Smith. "If the American people can't trust his words on the campaign trail, they certainly could never trust him with the presidency."