President Barack Obama, locked in a tight re-election bid, is emphasizing his incumbent’s role for a third straight day, skipping campaign events in battleground states to visit victims of superstorm Sandy in New Jersey, a state he’s confident of winning. The president’s actions have forced his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, to walk a careful line and make tough choices.

The former Massachusetts governor must show respect for the superstorm’s casualties all along the Eastern Seaboard. But Romney can ill afford to waste a minute of campaign time, with the contest virtually deadlocked in several key states and the election six days away.

After tamping down his partisan tone on Tuesday at an Ohio event that chiefly emphasized victims’ relief, Romney planned three full-blown campaign rallies on Wednesday in Florida, the largest competitive state. Sandy largely spared Florida, so Romney calculates he can campaign there without appearing callous.

Obama’s campaign announced on Wednesday he planned to resume campaign travel on Thursday after a three-day pause to deal with superstorm Sandy with stops in Nevada, Colorado and Wisconsin.

Obama’s revised schedule is a political gamble, too. Rather than use the campaign’s final on Wednesday to woo voters in the tossup states that will decide the election, he will go before cameras with New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie. Christie is one of Romney’s most prominent supporters, and a frequent Obama critic. But Christie praised Obama’s handling of the response to superstorm Sandy, a political twist the president’s visit is sure to underscore.

Romney wavered in his strategy. First the campaign said he would skip a rally in Ohio on Tuesday out of sympathy for the storm victims. Then Romney decided to do the event but recast it as a storm-relief effort, shorn of the usual campaign speech.

“It’s part of the American spirit, the American way, to give to people in need,” Romney told supporters in Kettering, Ohio, before they lined up to hand him bags of canned food for storm victims.

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