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Romney eases back into politicking at first post-hurricane rally


TAMPA, FL -- Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney reined in his criticism of President Barack Obama on Wednesday, signaling a softer tone at the outset of a three-stop swing through Florida coinciding with the president's trip to New Jersey to survey hurricane damage.

Returning to the campaign trail after cancelling several campaign events out of respect to victims of Hurricane Sandy, Romney joined several prominent Florida Republicans in blending a pitch for storm recovery support with more traditional political fanfare.

In his first formal campaign event (Romney morphed one planned stop in Ohio into a "relief event" on Tuesday), Romney struck hopeful notes.

"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," Romney told supporters gathered in an airplane hangar here near the close of his remarks. "We’re going to take on these challenges we’re going to overcome them!"

As the storm cleanup begins, the Republican presidential candidate is facing questions about his position on the federal government's role in disaster relief. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

And Romney included an entreaty for donations to the Red Cross as the East Coast reels from the impact of the hurricane earlier this week. (Romney himself made a donation to the Red Cross, an aide told NBC News.)

"If you have an extra dollar or two, send them along and keep the people who are in harms – who have been in harms way, who’ve been damaged either personally or through their property, keep them in your thoughts and prayers," Romney said. "We love all of our fellow citizens.  We come together in 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."

Romney was joined on the trail by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the latter of whom noted that Floridians are more familiar with hurricanes than most of the nation, and urged the roughly 2,000 attendees here to pay back the generosity they have experienced after past storms.

At a campaign event in Tampa Bay, Florida, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney promotes a five-point plan for growing the economy.

"People are going to be living with the aftermath of the storm, and so our hearts and our prayers go out to them, and also our help," Rubio said. "If you see on the screen the number you can text the Red Cross and make your donation. We have been the beneficiary of these donations in the past. Let's make sure we pay it forward for our neighbors and fellow Americans up north who are suffering."

Bush, who had to handle numerous hurricanes during his time as governor, also waded into the politics of disaster relief, suggesting that local governments contributed more to recovery efforts than the federal government.

"My experience in all this emergency response business is that it is the local level and the state level that really matters," he said to applause. "That if they do their job right the federal government part works out pretty good."

Brian Snyder / Reuters

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greets audience members at a campaign rally in Tampa, Florida October 31, 2012.

But today's event was certainly a return to the issues that have driven the campaign for the last year -- with Romney criticizing the president's stewardship of the economy indirectly, and offering his own plan in contrast.

“My view is pretty straight forward and that is I believe that this is time for America to take a different course, that this should be a turning point for our country, and I say that because I look at where we are and with 23 million Americans – you think about that. These are real people. These are folks trying to put food on the table," Romney said. "Twenty-three million people struggling to find a good job. This is something that requires in my view a different path than we’ve been on."

Reuters, Getty Images

In the final push in the 2012 presidential election, candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama make their last appeals to voters.