Storm throws election schedule


Hurricane Sandy's approach to land coincides with the final full week before the US presidential election, forcing Mitt Romney to call off a visit to Virginia and raising questions about how president Barack Obama would balance governing and campaigning in the event of a potentially devastating natural disaster.

But neither team showed any signs of slowing down the pace of campaigning in battleground states not directly threatened by the specter of flooding, high winds and power outages. Mr Romney abruptly cancelled a full day of rallies scheduled for today in Virginia as the major storm approached the East Coast.

His campaign said he would head to Ohio instead. To get ahead of the weather, the White House said Mr Obama would leave a day early for a planned campaign event in Florida on Monday. Both campaigns cancelled rallies in Virginia Beach this weekend.

Mr Obama, in particular, faces a delicate balance: how to marshal the government's response while also rallying votes ahead of the November 6th election. Some of the swing states necessary to Mr Obama's re-election hopes - Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire - are directly in the storm's projected path.

But with 10 days to go until Election Day, both campaigns sought to make good use of the good weather Saturday. At a rally in Nashua - attended by 8,500, who were entertained beforehand with a performance by James Taylor - Mr Obama accused Mr Romney of raising taxes and fees on the middle class while he was governor of neighboring Massachusetts."

He raised fees to get a birth certificate, which would have been expensive for me," Mr Obama said, grinning. Before the rally, Mr Obama stopped at a local Teamsters office in Manchester to energize campaign volunteers."New Hampshire is going to be very important," he said.

"We don't know how this thing is going to play out; these four electoral votes right here could make the difference."In Pensacola, Fla., yesterday, Mr Romney zeroed in on a local worry: cuts to military spending that could impact a naval station in town. Speaking at a rally of 10,000 supporters, some of whom dressed in red, white and blue shirts to assemble an American flag in the stands, he assailed Mr Obama for what he said were the administration's plan for $1 trillion in reductions to the defence budget.

Recalling a pointed jab from the president in their final debate Monday, he said, "In fact we do use bayonets, and a modern Navy is one of the critical elements that allows us to protect sea lanes and to keep the world more free and prosperous."

Mr Romney suggested that president's re-election could cost Florida 41,000 jobs tied to the military. "Think of all the businesses that depend on all those jobs. It's extraordinary," Mr Romney said. "But the president's agenda keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller."

On the first day of early voting in Florida, Mr Romney also urged his supporters not to wait until the last minute."The earlier you vote, the more help you can give us getting other people to the polls," Romney said. "We need to turn out our people. This election counts."Still, the impending storm shadowed the day.

Yesterday, the White House sought to project the image of a president working to prepare the East Coast. Aboard Air Force One en route to the rally in New Hampshire, Mr Obama held a conference call with Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other top officials to get an update on the approaching storm.

Late last night, the White House announced that Obama will cancel events in Northern Virginia tomorrow and in Colorado Springs on Tuesday. The president will return to the White House tomorrow afternoon following a campaign event in Youngstown, Ohio, to monitor the storm's impact, aides said.

"The president is being regularly updated on the storm and ongoing preparations, and he has directed his team to continue to bring all available resources to bear as state and local partners continue to prepare for the storm," the White House said in a statement.

Mr Romney had been set to appear at rallies in northern Virginia, Richmond and Virginia Beach, as he seeks to build support in a swing state that Obama won four years ago. Polls show the candidates in a tight race in Virginia.The campaign said that Mr Romney instead would go to Ohio to attend three events originally set to feature his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan.

The decision diverts Romney away from three major media markets in Virginia and means the campaign will not benefit from having the two men cover twice as much territory in the final days.

Advisers to Mr Romney made the decision to cancel after a series of phone calls with Virginia's emergency management officials on Friday and Saturday, said Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell. Martin said officials left the decision about whether to hold the rallies up to Mr Romney's campaign.

Appearing at a rally in Florida on Saturday, Mr Romney said he had conferred with McDonnell, saying: "The first responders really need to focus on preparations for the storm. So we are not going to be able to be in Virginia tomorrow. We're going to Ohio instead."

The storm's arrival on the eve of the election could hold repercussions for both Mr Obama and Mr Romney, particularly if it inhibits voter turnout in crucial states. In Ohio in particular, the Obama campaign has been counting on its field operation to urge people to vote early, with buses taking voters to the polls after Mr Obama rallies in the state.

Republicans, for their part, have been pushing their own early-vote efforts in Virginia, hoping that Romney can get a head start in vote tallies there.By Saturday evening, reverberations from the nearing storm had extended beyond the presidential campaigns to the candidates' families.

Vice president Joe Biden said yesterday that his son, Beau, the Delaware attorney general, could not make it to a rally in Lynchburg, Va. "He called," Mr Biden said at a rally, "and said, 'Dad, the governor has just called up the National Guard. I'm going home.'"