ROANOKE, Va. — After pulling his punches for three days as President Obama dealt with Hurricane Sandy, Mitt Romney called off the truce at a morning rally here, returning to his standard attack lines — and adding a new dig at the president's proposal to add a "secretary of business" to his cabinet.
"He came up with an idea last week, which is he's going to create a Department of Business. I don't think adding a new chair to his cabinet will help adding millions of jobs to Main Street," Romney told thousands of supporters gathered in window factory.
He added, "We don't need a secretary of business to understand business. We need a president who understands business, and I do."
Obama reintroduced the idea of a business secretary in an MSNBC interview earlier this week, when he said he'd like to consolidate government agencies that deal with trade, exports, and small business loans under one administrator. Shortly after Romney's remarks, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt went on Fox News and argued that the president's idea would "shrink the size of government."
In the same speech, Romney also bemoaned the incumbent's economic record and returned to a favorite attack line, accusing Obama of running a "small" campaign built around "silly word games."
The more aggressive tack was a recognition that neither campaign can afford to spend the last five days of the race playing nice. Obama is back on the campaign trail today, stumping in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Nevada. And his campaign — which never really let up in the partisan bomb-throwing — immediately fired back after Romney's Virginia rally, claiming the Republican is "lurch[ing] from false attack to false attack."
If there was any question about whether the hurricane would permanently alter the tone of the race in the final stretch, it appears to have been answered.