BRIGANTINE, N.J. (AP) - President Barack Obama toured the destruction wrought by superstorm Sandy on Wednesday in the company of New Jersey's governor and assured victims "we will not quit" until cleanup and recovery are complete.
Six days before their hard-fought election, rival Mitt Romney muted criticism of Obama as he traveled to battleground Florida.
The president helicoptered with Gov. Chris Christie over washed-out roads, flooded homes, boardwalks bobbing in the ocean and, in Seaside Heights, a fire still burning after ruining about eight structures.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event at the University of Miami on Wednesday in Coral Gables, Fla.
Back on the ground, the president introduced one local woman to "my guy Craig Fugate." Obama instructed the man at the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a 7,500-employee federal agency, to "make sure she gets the help she needs" immediately.
Despite the tour and Romney's own expressions of sympathy for storm victims - a break on the surface from heated campaigning - a controversy as heated as any in the long, intense struggle for the White House flared over the Republican challenger's new ads in Ohio.
"Desperation," Vice President Joe Biden said of the broadcast claims that said automakers General Motors and Chrysler are adding jobs in China at the expense of workers in the bellwether state. "One of the most flagrantly dishonest ads I can ever remember."
Republicans said there was nothing dishonest about the ad's message.
"American taxpayers are on track to lose $25 billion as a result of President Obama's handling of the auto bailout, and GM and Chrysler are expanding their production overseas," said an e-mailed statement issued in the name of Republican running mate Paul Ryan.
National surveys make the race a tight one for the popular vote, with Romney ahead by a statistically insignificant point or two in some, and Obama in others.
Both sides claim an advantage from battleground state soundings that also are tight. Obama's aides pushed the idead that he is ahead or tied in all of them, while Romney's team counters that his campaign is expanding in its final days into what had long been deemed safe territory for the president in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
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 could receive a political payoff from the storm, but also stands to lose ground if the federal response to the disaster falls short.
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.
In Tampa, Romney said, "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."