DENVER — Crista Laughlin was a mile high and dry, but Superstorm Sandy still kept the 40-year-old Obama campaign volunteer from walking precincts or working the phones.
Instead, she was huddled inside her suburban Denver home, watching storm coverage on television and thinking about her grandson in Norfolk, Va., in the hurricane's path. "I'm actually with the president on this one: The election will take care of itself in a week. What's on our minds is the people," said Laughlin, a 40-year-old volunteer in Aurora, Colo.
The presidential election was, well, rained out Monday — from the media centers and storm-battered battleground states of the Atlantic coast to the arid, high plains suburbia of Colorado. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan canceled three Colorado appearances scheduled for Tuesday as the Romney's campaign announced it was suspending political events featuring the top of its ticket. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama scrapped his own Tuesday appearances — including one in Colorado — and fled a Monday morning rally in Florida to make it back to the White House before the storm.
The president's campaign emailed supporters urging them to donate to charities that help storm victims. In Romney campaign offices, volunteers cut into their phone-banking and door-knocking time to stockpile canned goods to send to the disaster zone. The storm gave Obama a chance to appear presidential during a national emergency, and challenger Mitt Romney a potential opening should the federal government botch the response.
It also had a political impact thousands of miles away, giving people like Roger Draeger a break.
The 75-year-old funeral driver from Fort Atkinson, Wis., is a Romney supporter, but he was glad both candidates suspended their campaigns Monday. It was a blessed reprieve from the nonstop political debate that has dominated Wisconsin since Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill limiting collective bargaining for state workers last year, triggering a long series of recall elections.
Still, like other residents of this poll-obsessed nation, Draegar quickly began to analyze the upsides and downsides for each candidate, saying both should be visible in the aftermath. Obama "really needs to show a lot of compassion for all those states and cities," he said.
It's a sign of how thoroughly the campaign has permeated swing-state life that Dan Guimond, 61, an economist in Denver, was partly getting his hurricane updates through the political-junkie website Real Clear Politics and The New York Times blog FiveThirtyEight. Guimond is worried about his parents, who live in Massachusetts, but not worried about how the storm could affect the race. "Obama canceled his, what, 26th trip to Colorado? Big deal," he said.
A modicum of politics still continues here. Former President Bill Clinton and Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, were still slated to campaign in Colorado on Tuesday, and the Romney campaign sent the candidate's son Craig to an early vote event Monday afternoon. The president, notably, is scheduled to return to Colorado Thursday. Still, some of his supporters said they may not be able to do as much for him.
Mitt Romney held what his campaign called a "storm relief event" in Ohio Tuesday. His wife, Ann, will help gather donations at campaign offices in Wisconsin and Iowa Tuesday before a Des Moines, Iowa, rally. The Romney campaign also announced Ryan will drop by a donation drive in Wisconsin.
Denver Pastor Leon Emerson, head of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, spent the weekend rallying voters for Obama with actor Laurence Fishburne. But he expects Sunday talks at church to focus less on the upcoming election and more on the storm.
"I'll eventually talk about the election, but I may not put as much emphasis on it, depending how this hurricane turns out," Emerson said. "Politics is one thing, but you know what? We're going to keep our attention on helping mankind."
Emerson said his congregation is shifting focus, too.
"We had some plans today and tomorrow, going door to door. It's still going on, but not with the intensity we had, because people want to make sure their loved ones are OK," said Emerson, who has a niece in Hampton, Va.
Some weary swing state voters didn't think the political lull would mean much. "I'm sure the TV commercials aren't going to stop," said Mike Beauregard, a Republican-leaning Independent who owns a cooking utensil shop in Concord, NH.
Others were fixated on images of the storm but still saw the devastation through the prism of the election. In western Wisconsin, at the bustling student union at the University of Wisconsin in River Falls, a television tuned to cable news showed ominous images of the storm. History major Mike Engelhardt, 21, said Obama had the most on the line.
"If he bungles the beginning of the cleanup, that will move a lot of votes to Romney," Engelhardt predicted.
One place the storm may have an impact is North Carolina, where Democrats are hoping new voters who cast their ballots early will overcome the GOP's traditional Election Day advantage at the polls. Rain from the storm shuttered some early voting locations Sunday, and election officials were concerned that heavy snow in the western mountains could make it even harder to get to polling places early.
"The weather could chill participation," state election executive director Gary Bartlett said.
Democrats are counting on running up an edge in early votes in other swing states as well — ones that lie outside the storm's path but were still on the minds of Romney supporters in sunny Davenport, Iowa, where the Republican candidate made a final Monday afternoon appearance.
Tim Vath of Dubuque said he didn't think the storm would fundamentally disrupt the election. But he did worry that any bad weather now might increase the magnitude of any early-voting advantage Democrats might have.
"Perhaps it could freeze that advantage in place. I doubt it would determine the outcome in those states," said Vath. "At least, I hope not."
As Sandy rumbled past the tiny Chesapeake Bay hamlet of North, Va., William Sullivan, 76, swung by the town's main building, which holds the post office, bait shop and convenience store. Sullivan trashed two-thirds the mail stuffing his post office box, mainly glossy political brochures from both sides.1 comment on this story
"Makes me sick to my stomach thinking of the millions of dollars these characters have spent to get elected," Sullivan said before heading back out into the rain. He doubted the dramatics surrounding the storm would change the minds of his rural neighbors. "People have their minds made up," he said.
In downtown Denver, it was sunny and in the 60s as Jeremy LeVal, a Romney supporter, waited at a bus stop. He confessed he has paid limited attention to both the campaign and the storm. He knew the hurricane was bearing down on the Northeast and hoped there was no major damage, but doubted the brief suspension of the presidential contest would matter.
"If people haven't decided at this point," LeVal said, "it probably won't make a difference."
Associated Press writers Bob Bakst in River Falls, Wis., Tom Beaumont in Davenport, Iowa, Norma Love in Concord, N.H., Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington, Todd Richmond in Waunakee, Wis., and Bob Lewis in North, Va., contributed to this report.