KETTERING, Ohio — The presidential candidates searched for the right moment to get back to politicking after superstorm Sandy's destructive interruption, with President Barack Obama monitoring relief efforts and Republican Mitt Romney struggling to strike the right tone.
Romney and running mate Paul Ryan initially announced they were canceling events out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in Sandy's path. But with only a week left to try to toss Obama from office, the GOP campaign was back on Tuesday with events in the critical Midwestern swing states of Ohio and Iowa, albeit with changes to the program.
Romney was holding a "storm relief event" in Kettering, Ohio, at the same arena as his previously scheduled political rally and with the same celebrity line-up — NASCAR driver Richard Petty and country music singer Randy Owen. The event was moved up by four hours and aides said the tone would be changed, with no attacks on the president back at the White House overseeing the response.
Obama was updated throughout the night as Sandy came ashore and moved inland. He spoke with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and issued major disaster declarations for both states.
Christie, a Republican who has been campaigning for Romney across the country, praised Obama's leadership.
"Cooperation from the president of the United States has been outstanding," Christie told "CBS This Morning." ''He deserves great credit."
Obama also spoke with the mayors of New York, Jersey City and Newark and provided additional federal assistance for local efforts. He planned an additional call Tuesday with affected mayors and governors.
Millions were left without power as the deadly storm whipped its way through presidential battlegrounds like North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire and sprawled as far as the Great Lakes, where gales threatened Ohio's and Wisconsin's lakeside regions.
David Letterman, continuing his "Late Show" in storm-damaged New York without an audience, joked: "The storm has stopped the presidential campaign, so at least some good has come of it."
Some election centers in the affected states were shut down, but early voting continued in areas outside Sandy's path. After casting her ballot for Obama at the Franklin County early voting center Tuesday, Lydia Strauss, of Columbus, said she didn't anticipate the storm changing the outcome in Ohio.
"People feel strongly about this election and they're not going to be deterred," said the 42-year-old social worker.
Obama had a day of campaigning in Ohio scheduled for Wednesday and had planned to stay on the trail through next Tuesday's Election Day. It was unclear if the storm response would alter those plans.
Romney's campaign has been grappling with how he should respond. When Obama rushed out of battleground Florida on Monday morning before a scheduled rally to monitor the response back at the White House, Romney aides initially said he and Ryan would continue working for votes away from the storm's path. Then communications director Gail Gitcho announced a change in plans just as Romney was appearing at a rally in Ohio.
"Out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy, we are canceling tonight's events with Governor Romney in Wisconsin and Congressman Ryan in Melbourne and Lakeland, Florida," she wrote in an email to reporters. "We are also canceling all events currently scheduled for both Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan on Tuesday."
But they apparently concluded that Romney couldn't afford to waste time out of the spotlight in such a closely fought race, with polling showing an Obama advantage in several swing states. Later Monday evening, the campaign announced the Kettering event, with local news reports saying supporters should bring food donations.
The Romney camp also announced that a political rally in Des Moines, Iowa, would go on at the same time as previously scheduled Tuesday night, with Ann Romney filling in for her husband as the headliner. Ryan was slated to visit campaign offices in his home state of Wisconsin to thank the volunteers helping to collect relief supplies for storm victims.
Ryan was returning to his regular schedule Wednesday, campaigning across his home state of Wisconsin before going to trick or treat with his children.
Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said the campaign was in contact with local relief organizations and the Red Cross to make sure the supplies they were collecting Tuesday would be useful.
"We checked to make sure the supplies would be helpful and welcomed as part of our volunteer effort. And our own volunteers will be personally delivering the supplies to the relief center," Madden said.
Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt in Dayton, Ohio, Philip Elliott in Janesville, Wis., Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, and Jim Kuhnhenn, Julie Pace and Ben Feller in Washington contributed to this report.