this week's superstorm Sandy, which killed dozens and devastated parts of the Eastern seaboard, the two candidates stopped pulling their punches and re-engaged for the final round of their heavyweight presidential bout.
Obama launched an ambitious swing through four vital battleground states a day after touring New Jersey's coastline, which was left swamped by the storm.
Addressing a crowd in Green Bay, Wisconsin, he praised citizens for coming together in the wake of the storm and urged voters to give him four more years in office.
"When disaster strikes, we've seen America at its best," he said. "All the petty differences that consume us all seem to melt away. There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm; they're just fellow Americans."
Obama's take-charge, cross-party approach to storm relief has done him no harm in his re-election bid, but with the race on a knife edge he was eager to cover as much ground as possible in a whirlwind dash to November 6.
After Wisconsin he jetted further west to swing state Nevada, and will then head to Colorado before overnighting in key battleground Ohio.
Obama hammered his White House challenger for seeking to pluck the "change" mantle from the president.
"Now, in the closing weeks of this campaign, governor Romney has been using all his talents as a salesman to dress up these very same policies that failed our country so badly, the very same policies we've been cleaning up after for the past four years -- and he is offering them up as change," Obama said.
"What the governor is offering sure ain't change. Getting more power back to the biggest banks isn't change. Leaving millions without health insurance isn't change."
Romney, struggling to not become a blip on the radar after being sidelined by Sandy, made three stops in battleground Virginia where he sought to refocus the race on his strongest argument: the sluggish economy.
"I know the Obama folks are chanting 'four more years,'" Romney told supporters in Roanoke, Virginia. "But our chant is this: 'Five more days!'"
With Romney's team confident it can score at least a few upset victories in Democrat-leaning states, his campaign said the Republican candidate would stump for votes in Pennsylvania on Sunday, just 48 hours before election day.
Pennsylvania has been in Obama's column for months, with the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls showing the incumbent up 4.6 percentage points in the large, eastern state.
But Romney pollsters and senior aides dismiss polls as giving an incomplete picture in many states where they feel the challenger has built momentum in recent weeks which they argue could deliver a stronger-than-expected turnout.
Romney ridiculed Obama for announcing this week that he wants to create a "secretary of business," something Romney said will do nothing to turn the economy around.
"We don't need a secretary of business to understand business; we need a president who understands business, and I do," said Romney, a multi-millionaire former venture capitalist and ex-governor of Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, much of the national discussion still focused on the storm and its aftermath.
Six million homes and businesses remained without power, and entire communities up and down the coast remained flooded or cut off after the storm, one of the largest in US history, battered the northeast.
In New York the subway resumed limited service after the worst disaster in the system's 108-year history, but the Big Apple was split in half, with much of the lower Manhattan financial district still flooded and off the grid.
On Wednesday Obama comforted storm victims and vowed to help rebuild communities as he surveyed the damage in New Jersey, where a massive relief operation had swung into gear with tens of thousands of homes under water.
Setting the heated politics of the campaign aside, Obama was accompanied by the state's Governor Chris Christie, a prominent Republican and Romney backer who was also keeping the focus on the storm.
Obama on Thursday earned the endorsement of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an ex-Republican, and of The Economist newspaper.
Bloomberg said the president's efforts on climate change and his command during the storm crisis outweighed his failure on the economy.
The London-based Economist, meanwhile, which has a worldwide circulation of 1.57 million, said it was backing Obama with less enthusiasm than four years ago, but noted that Romney "does not fit the bill."