Posted Online: Nov. 01, 2012, 7:15 pm

Presidential campaign back at full throttle

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The Associated Press

DOSWELL, Va. (AP) — Five days before the election, Republican challenger Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama vied forcefully for the mantle of change Thursday in a country thirsting for it after a painful recession and uneven recovery, pressing intense closing arguments in their unpredictably close race for the White House.

Early voting topped 20 million ballots.

A three-day lull that followed Superstorm Sandy ended abruptly, the president campaigning briskly across three battleground states and Romney piling up three stops in a fourth. The Republican also attacked with a tough new Spanish-language television ad in Florida showing Venezuela's leftist leader, Hugo Chavez, and Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, saying they would vote for Obama.

The storm intruded once again into the race, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the president in a statement that said Sandy, which devastated his city, could be evidence of climate change.

The ever-present polls charted a close race for the popular vote, and a series of tight battleground surveys suggested neither man could be confident of success in the competition for the 270 electoral votes that will decide the winner.

The two parties also battled for control of the Senate in a series of 10 or more competitive campaigns. The possibility of a 50-50 tie loomed, or even a more unsettled outcome if former Gov. Angus King, of Maine, an independent, wins a three-way race and becomes majority-maker.

Obama's aides left North Carolina off the president's itinerary in the campaign's final days, a decision that Republicans trumpeted as a virtual concession of the state.Yet Romney's team omitted Ohio and Wisconsin from a list of battlegrounds where they claimed narrow advantage.

The challenger and running mate, Paul Ryan, slated separate weekend stops in Pennsylvania, a state long viewed as safe for the president. Republicans said the decision to campaign there reflected late momentum, and Democrats said it was mere desperation.