WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After three days of focusing on superstorm Sandy, President Barack Obama will return to the campaign trail on Thursday with a more "affirmative" message to win over undecided voters in the final days of the race for the White House.
With polls showing a tight contest between the Democratic incumbent and Republican challenger Mitt Romney before Tuesday's election, Obama will use trips to political battleground states to make a closing appeal for a second term.
That argument will touch on points he has made for months about the choice between competing Republican and Democratic visions, Obama advisers said, but it will put more weight on Obama's ideas for the future and could resurrect some of the hopeful themes that helped him win election in 2008.
"You're going to see him lift up ... the vision of what we're fighting for," senior campaign strategist David Axelrod said in an interview last week before the storm, adding the construction of Obama's "stump" speech would alter slightly in the final days.
"We'll still address what the choice is. You have to address the choice. But I think it'll tilt toward the affirmative, toward the future."
Obama was to have started his closing argument on Monday during a rally in Florida, but he skipped that event to return to Washington to help coordinate storm relief. The massive storm pummeled New York City and other parts of the U.S. Northeast.
The president has not given a traditional campaign speech since Saturday - an unusually long period this close to Election Day - but has remained in the public eye with daily remarks in Washington and a trip to New Jersey to survey storm damage.
Romney, who also canceled some political rallies because of the storm, limited his attacks on the president while campaigning on Wednesday in Florida.
Obama won the 2008 election using the themes of "hope" and "change," which resonated with voters disgruntled with the policies of Republican President George W. Bush.
This year, Obama used "Forward" as his slogan, but his message - and that of his surrogates - has included stinging attacks on Romney, a former private equity executive and Massachusetts governor.
Republicans charge that Obama's message has been negative because his record on the economy is weak. Democrats counter that Romney, who has leveled his share of negative attacks at Obama, has twisted the truth about the president's record and run away from his own.
While Obama starts a tour of swing states including Nevada, Colorado and Ohio, his campaign is focusing intensely on its get-out-the-vote effort, which Democrats believe will give them an edge on Election Day.
Campaign manager Jim Messina, who built the Obama "ground game" of volunteers, said online donations coming in now were going straight to that operation, rather than to television advertising.
"Anything I get online, it goes right out to the ground," Messina said in an interview, contrasting that strategy with Romney's team. "They're still dumping money trying to get a bigger advantage on TV," he said.
His philosophy is evident in the campaign's Chicago-based headquarters. The office, once bustling with hundreds of people, is thinner now as staff members leave to spend the final days of the race working in key states, getting applause from their colleagues as they depart.
Messina said television was less important in the final stretch than having volunteers get voters to the polls.
"The final days, I think TV is way less relevant," Messina said. "We have always banked on the endgame to put us over the top. That's where we are, and we continue to feel very confident that interaction between our neighborhood leaders and their friends and neighbors is how you persuade people at the end."