Hurricane Sandy in spotlight in campaign's final full week

By Steve Peoples

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 29 2012 6:14 a.m. MDT

In this Oct. 25, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves to supporters as he steps off his campaign bus as he arrives at a campaign stop in Worthington, Ohio. President Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's meticulously arranged travel schedules, a crucial element of their final-stretch strategies, could be upended in the last full week before Election Day by a super storm barreling toward some battleground states.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — The presidential race's final full week was devolving into a scheduling nightmare as President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney grappled with how to push on with campaigning while a massive storm churned toward the East Coast.

Parts of four competitive states were in the path of Hurricane Sandy: Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and New Hampshire.

Obama, seeking to project presidential leadership, scraped plans to hold three events in three states Monday with former President Bill Clinton. Instead, Obama was to attend only a morning rally in Florida before returning to Washington to oversee the government's emergency response.

"I'm not going to be able to campaign quite as much over the next couple of days," Obama told volunteers in Florida Sunday night.

Romney canceled a trio of Virginia events Sunday, but was scheduled to visit Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin on Monday. His campaign also canceled events in New Hampshire Tuesday and advisers predicted more scheduling changes were on the way.

"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 supporters in Ohio on Sunday.

With just over a week until Election Day, neither campaign could afford to fully shut down its political activity in a race that remains tight. Polls suggest Obama has an advantage in reaching the required 270 Electoral College votes. But Romney's campaign is projecting momentum and considering trying to expand the playing field beyond the nine states that have garnered the bulk of the candidates' attention.

A senior Republican official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose private deliberations, said Romney's team was discussing sending the GOP nominee, his running mate Paul Ryan or both to traditionally left-leaning Minnesota during the campaign's final week.

Nearly all of Obama and Romney's attention for most of the race has focused on Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado.

Both candidates had planned to blitz through nearly all of those states in the campaign's final days.

For Obama, the storm provided an opportunity to show command in a crisis. He was briefed Sunday on the government's response at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and spoke 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."

Obama has declared emergencies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, authorizing federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts.

During the GOP primaries, Romney suggested the responsibility of responding to natural disasters should be stripped from FEMA and delegated to the states or private businesses.

"Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better," Romney said during a Republican debate broadcast on CNN.

Earlier this year his running mate Ryan, the chairman of the House budget committee, tried to eliminate $10 billion a year in federal disaster aid. Under Ryan's failed proposal, when emergencies arise, Congress would pay for the disaster costs by cutting the federal budget elsewhere.

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