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Obama, Romney tangle over 'change' mantle as campaign kicks back into gear

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Then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama in 2012.AP

President Obama, who ran four years ago as the change candidate, returned to the campaign trail Thursday rallying supporters with a fresh appeal on the heels of touring Sandy devastation alongside one of his most ardent detractors -- now is not the time to change. 

"We've got a choice to make. In five days we will choose our next president," Obama told a Green Bay, Wis., crowd, at his first of three rallies across three battleground states. 

The president continued to claim the "change" mantle, but urged voters not to change presidents. 

"We know what change looks like, and what the governor's offering sure ain't change," Obama said. 

The president was responding to Romney's campaign-trail claims that he's the one offering "real" and "bold" change in this election. 

The exchange signaled the full-tilt restart of the presidential campaign after super storm Sandy effectively muted the rhetoric for three days, drawing Obama off the trail to handle emergency response and then meet with Chris Christie, governor of hard-hit New Jersey. But with just five days left before Election Day, the candidates could ill afford to avoid the stump much longer. 

"If the president were to be re-elected, you're going to see high levels of unemployment continue and stalled wage growth," Romney said during a stop at a window manufacturer in Roanoke, Va., on Thursday. "The only way to get this economy going is the kind of bold change I've described." 

Obama, after meeting with top Romney surrogate Christie a day earlier, tried to leverage the aura of bipartisanship on Thursday. Employing the bipartisan tone he ran on in 2008, Obama said natural disasters, despite the tragedy they bring, tend to draw out the best in America. 

"All the petty differences that consume us during normal times all seem to melt away," Obama said. "There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm. There are just fellow Americans." 

Still, the president went on to accuse Romney of trying to bring back "top-down economics" and return to failed economic policies. 

Romney says that's not what he's selling. The Republican nominee said he just wants to make the government friendly to business once more. 

"I want to change this dynamic and make business recognize they have a friend in Washington, not a foe," Romney said. He later added: "We need real change. For real change we're going to have to take a different course. And I think that's what Americans are going to do on Nov. 6." 

Virginia remains critical for Romney's strategy in five days. Obama won the traditionally red state in 2008 by a comfortable margin, but the latest polls the candidates in a statistical tie. 

Romney's final argument comes amid more positive signs for the economy that could dampen his message in the final days. Consumer confidence in October rose to its highest level since 2008 and unemployment claims fell slightly, indicating slow but continued growth. 

Friday's monthly unemployment figure will be the last major economic indicator ahead of Tuesday's election. And while the figure has fallen below 8 percent -- a benchmark Romney himself emphasized for much of the last year -- the Romney campaign maintains job growth is not fast enough. 

"The American economy is not living up to its full potential as a result of President Obama's wrong policies," senior adviser Kevin Madden said. "The economic growth and employment metrics of the last four years are not consistent with a real economic recovery." 

Fox News' Chris Laible contributed to this report.