MENTOR, Ohio -- Republicans like Karl Rove and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman aren't the only ones who think that Hurricane Sandy has helped President Barack Obama politically.
"I hate to say it, but with that storm I think the atmosphere went up," said Holly Brindley, a 57-year-old volunteer for the Obama campaign, who lives near Steubenville, Ohio, and drove two-and-a-half hours to see Obama in this Cleveland suburb on Saturday morning.
It's not a pleasant conclusion for those who want Obama to win, given the fact that Sandy wreaked havoc from which many on the East Coast are still recovering and claimed more than 100 lives. But numerous voters said they felt the president's response to the storm helped him push back what had been a slow, steady move by Republican nominee Mitt Romney to pick up ground in the polls.
"He restored the presidential appearance," said Brindley, who has been making phone calls and knocking on doors for the Obama campaign.
Before the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 in Denver, she said, "I thought we were doing well."
"And then after that first debate, it went phew," she said, making a downward motion with her hand.
Interviews with those who attended Obama campaign rallies in Ohio over the past three days revealed a common strain: Many of the president's supporters feel much more confident about Obama's chances of being reelected than they did just a week ago. Many cited the way that Sandy allowed the president to regain stature and leadership. And the way that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) partnered with Obama, and spoke warmly about him, came up often.
"I think he's going to win now. I wasn't sure a week ago," said Garry Young, 71, a retired forklift driver, while he waited Thursday night for former President Bill Clinton to appear on stage in Chillicothe, a small town about an hour south of Columbus.
Young pointed to Obama's storm response as a major factor in his bolstered confidence. "He looked like a real president," Young said.
His wife, Flip Young, said she was "worried after the first debate."
"He thought it was OK," she said of her husband. "I told him that it was absolutely horrible. People tuned in for the first time and saw him and thought, 'What on earth? He can't be president.'"
But Flip Young said that in the second and third debates, Obama "redeemed himself." She also thought that Christie's tour of the storm damage with Obama on Wednesday was helpful for the president's image, and even referred to Christie's praise of Obama as an "endorsement."
"Not his technical endorsement," she clarified, but then went back to expressing wonderment at the way Christie showered the president with praise. "Christie was the keynote speaker at the Republican convention. Someone like that you would assume would be for Romney," she said.
Sandy Linvill, 49, who was waiting in a long line for the women's restroom before the Mentor rally, said that Christie "spoke very positively of the president."
"For what he is in the Republican Party, I think that's tremendous," said Linvill, who works in health insurance sales support. "I was really concerned a week ago, but I'm feeling more optimistic."
Roxanne Hustek, 41, stood for two hours in the cold to get into the Mentor rally with her husband and young daughter, but still was so far back in line that she was sent to the overflow room and was unable to see the president's full remarks. She believed that Sandy had stopped Romney's momentum.
"The storm took a lot of political coverage out of the news, and I think maybe that stopped the momentum," she said.
Key Republicans have expressed similar thoughts. Rove, the former top adviser to George W. Bush who has helped oversee the array of Republican outside groups spending hundreds of millions of dollars this election, said on Friday that "if you hadn’t had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy."
"There was a stutter in the campaign. When you have attention drawn away to somewhere else, to something else, it is not to his [Romney's] advantage," Rove told The Washington Post. "Obama has temporarily been a bipartisan figure this week. He has been the comforter in chief, and that helps."
Portman, the Ohio senator who has become a trusted adviser to Romney, told CNN on Saturday that the storm "wasn't helpful" to the GOP nominee's chances. But he also said that as those affected by the storm continue to struggle, that could hurt Obama in the campaign's closing days.
"As usual in a major disaster like this, there are a lot of people who are concerned about the government not providing the assistance they deserve and need," Portman said. "People are feeling like, 'Hey, where's FEMA? Where's the help that I was promised?'"
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was much more overt with his criticism of Obama in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan on Friday night.
"What the heck is he doing, flying all over the country and not keeping his attention on what's going on there, making sure people don't have to wait until Nov. 11 or Nov. 12 for the power to go back on?" Giuliani said. "I understand he's still running for reelection, but his first responsibility is as commander in chief, and I think he's taken his eye off the ball at least for the last couple days. Maybe the first couple days he kept concentration on it."
"But I feel pretty darned offended seeing my president floating around campaigning while people are suffering the way people in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere are suffering," Giuliani said.
Obama adviser David Plouffe told reporters on Friday that the White House did not see the storm through a political prism. "We're not concerned about that. All we're concerned about -- as the governors and mayors are -- is making sure we're doing all we can to help those who have been affected," Plouffe said.
Still, Plouffe and fellow senior Obama adviser David Axelrod appeared relaxed and confident as they accompanied the president through Ohio on Friday.
The president's supporters had some of that same confidence, but were more open in expressing the anxiety that must also be present among the top levels of the president's campaign, given how close this election is.
"I think it's going to be very close," said Debbie Rezzolla, 56, a retired teacher in Mentor who decided to leave the Obama rally after fire marshals directed her and her husband to the overflow room.
"I feel better today than a week ago," Rezzolla said, "but I still don't feel as good as I did a month ago."