US President Barack Obama has used his last weekly address before the election to talk about Hurricane Sandy. The speech comes shortly before he and rival Mitt Romney enter the final stretch of their campaigns.
The radio and internet address was broadcast at 0530 EST (1030 GMT), far ahead of the onslaught of media coverage that will accompany Americans over the final weekend of a close presidential race. In it, President Obama spoke only of the catastrophe that brought normal life to a standstill across New York City and New Jersey, assuring the American people of his constant involvement in sending aid and directing recovery efforts.
"As president, I promise them [the victims of the disaster] this: your country will be there for you for as long as it takes to recover and rebuild," said Obama.
The president also thanked the workers who have helped the victims. Over 100 people across 15 states were killed in the storm.
"We owe the first responders and National Guardsmen who have been working around the clock our deepest gratitude," he said.
While the incumbent omitted overt references to the final days of a presidential campaign that could decide the outcome in Tuesday's election, he painted himself as a strong leader in the aftermath of the storm.
"From the earliest hours, I ordered that resources be made available to states in the path of the storm as soon as they needed them," said Obama, adding that he had told his team "not to let red tape and bureaucracy get in the way of solving problems – especially when it came to making sure local utilities could restore power as quickly as possible."
An estimated two million residents across New York and New Jersey have experienced prolonged power outages since the storm made landfall on Monday.
Appealing to a divided US
At the conclusion of his weekly address, Obama appealed to a sense of patriotism and unity among his listeners.
"When times are tough, we're tougher. We put others first. We go that extra mile. We open our hearts and our homes to one another, as one American family," he said.
"We recover, we rebuild, we come back stronger – and together we will do that once more."
The impact of Obama's handling of the natural disaster on the election outcomes remains questionable.
However, New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie praised the president for his response to the disaster, while New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed him for the 2012 election in light of his stance on climate change.
The ABC/Washington Post poll has put Obama at 49 percent and Romney at 48 percent. By contrast, a IPSOS/Reuters poll has them tied at 46 percent.
Saturday's address comes a day after after both candidates wrangled over the meaning of the latest jobs report, which showed that 171,000 more people were unemployed, but also that joblessness had reached 7.9 percent.
Over the weekend, Obama and Romney are scheduled to travel to key battleground states that Obama won in 2008, but where he currently holds only a narrow lead over his rival.
The president is to head to Ohio and Wisconsin, while Romney plans to campaign over the weekend in New Hampshire and Colorado. Both candidates have also scheduled trips to Iowa.
kms/tj (AP, AFP)