US election campaigns reshuffled as storm nears
Obama and Romney change travel plans in battleground states as storm draws near
US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have been forced to overhaul their election campaign plans to avoid Hurricane Sandy that was expected to wreak havoc on the US east coast.
Wary of being seen as putting their political pursuits ahead of public safety, the two presidential candidates cancelled two days of campaigning in the last full week of one of the closest presidential contests in recent US history.
Both men were loath to forfeit face time with voters in key states like Virginia that are likely to be afflicted when Sandy, a winter storm and a cold front collide to form a freak hybrid storm.
Obama cancelled campaign stops yesterday in Virginia and today in Colorado and Wisconsin to monitor the storm. He also cancelled plans to campaign with former President Bill Clinton in Ohio, the swing state seen as key to winning the election.
"The president's priority right now is the safety and security of Americans who are in the path of the storm," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Obama's plans to campaign tomorrow in Ohio were still on, though campaign officials said they were evaluating travel plans on an almost hourly basis.
Obama got an update on Sunday from disaster relief officials before speaking by phone to affected governors and mayors.
"Anything they need, we will be there," Obama said. "And we are going to cut through red tape. We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules. We want to make sure that we are anticipating and leaning forward."
A chance for Obama to demonstrate steady leadership in the face of crisis was offset by the risk the government, as in past emergencies, could be faulted for an ineffective response, with the president left to take the fall.
The storm took attention from Romney, and power outages could end up cutting off the deluge of television ads and automatic phone calls in the eastern battleground states.
Romney cancelled campaigning last night and today, and campaign contingency plans included having him tour storm damage in New Jersey, where the storm was expected to hit hard.
"I know that right now some people in the country are a little nervous about a storm about to hit the coast, and our thoughts and prayers are with people who will find themselves in harm's way," Romney told several hundred supporters at the University of Findlay on Sunday.
Both campaigns used social media to urge supporters to donate to the Red Cross and said they would stop sending fundraising e-mails to people living in areas in the storm's path.
The prospect that bad weather could hinder early voting and get-out-the-vote efforts is vexing to both campaigns. Election officials in Virginia eased absentee voting requirements for those affected by the storm.