Will the devastation of Superstorm Sandy tone down the hostile rhetoric of the presidential campaign?
The answer Wednesday was yes, at least by President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, who left it to surrogates and others to do the political dirty work.
Obama avoided any overt political statements when he toured storm damage in New Jersey with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a frequent critic who has praised the president's response to the disaster.
His comments at the end of the trip focused on the federal response, but concluded with a theme from Obama's campaign stump speech about Americans working together to help each other.
"We go through tough times, but we bounce back," the president said at the North Point Marina in Brigantine. "We bounce back because we look out for one another, and we don' t leave anybody behind."
Obama also made sure his role in the federal response to the disaster was well publicized.
Before heading to New Jersey, he visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency to meet with officials coordinating federal efforts. After his tour, Obama spoke of a 15-minute rule he imposed that requires federal relief officials to respond for calls for help from local authorities within that time period, adding that "if they need something, you figure out a way to say yes."
Romney campaigns in Florida
At his first bona fide campaign events since Sandy blasted the East Coast earlier this week, Romney focused his remarks on his oft-repeated five-point plan to increase domestic energy, expand trade, improve education and training, balance the budget and help small businesses.
He included some muted zingers, telling crowds in Tampa and Coral Gables that "I don't just talk about change," a reference to what he has previously called Obama's failure to deliver on the "hope and change" theme from 2008.
Romney's main message was the need to change the direction of the country from the chronic deficits and mounting debt of past years, saying the country required leaders who worked "in the interests of people" instead of seeking political gain.
A Romney spokesman told reporters the more positive stance by the former Massachusetts governor was planned.
"Our focus today is going to continue to be to strike a positive tone about what the governor would do on Day One of a Romney presidency," said campaign adviser Kevin Madden.
While Romney never mentioned Obama by name, some backers who spoke before him in Coral Gables were less reticent to attack.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush asked if "you honestly think that this president is capable of bringing people together," then said Obama's campaign strategy "is to blame others, starting with my brother" -- former President George W. Bush, who preceded Obama in the White House.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida raised the issue of a terrorist attack in Libya on September 11 that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, complaining Obama was "nowhere to be found" to answer questions about what happened.
Conservative commentators allege a White House cover-up because some top officials, including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, initially indicated a protest over an anti-Islam film spawned the deadly attack.
The Obama administration denies any attempt to mislead, saying initial intelligence reports were conflicting, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has appointed a panel to review what happened.
On the Democratic side, Vice President Joe Biden kept up his steady political attacks on the Republican ticket.
At an event in Sarasota, Florida, Biden called Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, "shameless" and accused them of running "one of the most flagrantly dishonest ads I can ever remember in my political career" in reference to a television spot that claims Chrysler was shifting Jeep manufacturing from the United States to China.
Officials of the company have declared the Romney ad incorrect, saying manufacturing abroad was an expansion of operations in the United States, rather than outsourcing.
"It's an outrageous lie," Biden said, adding the Romney ad caused U.S. autoworkers to call their union offices asking if it was true manufacturing jobs were transferred abroad. "What a cynical, cynical thing to do ... to go out and try to scare these people for electoral reasons at the end, to say something that's so untrue."
When asked about Biden's comment, Madden of the Romney campaign said the ad "makes the case for why Gov. Romney would be stronger for the auto industry and why the auto industry's an important part of a strong economy."
Ryan also addressed the issue at an appearance in Wisconsin, noting that the federal bailout of the auto industry resulted in plants shutting down -- including some in the state.
"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," Ryan said in an earlier statement.