AVON LAKE, Ohio — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney curtailed his campaigning Monday as Hurricane Sandy churned closer to the Eastern Seaboard and urged supporters to donate to the Red Cross or other relief agencies gearing up to help millions expected to become victims of the powerful storm.
"Do your very best to help," he urged them.
Romney will go ahead with a scheduled rally Monday afternoon in Iowa, but has canceled an evening event in Wisconsin. He also will not campaign in Ohio and Iowa on Tuesday as planned. His campaign has mobilized campaign staff across Virginia, which was being lashed by the storm, to collect donations for victims and he called on others in the storm's path to remove yard signs that could become projectiles in windy conditions.
Romney did not ignore politics completely while addressing more than 2,000 supporters in the gymnasium of an Ohio high school on Monday afternoon.
"I know the people of the Atlantic Coast are counting on Ohio and the rest of our states," he said. "But also I think the people of the entire nation are counting on Ohio because my guess is that if Ohio votes me in as president I'll be the next president of the United States."
The storm has created major headaches for both presidential candidates.
Aides at Romney's campaign headquarters in Boston were sketching out political contingency plans should the storm worsen. The former Massachusetts governor and Obama are locked in a close race eight days before Election Day, Nov. 6.
Campaign officials say Republican vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan will also scrap some campaign rallies.
The decision to suspend the events was announced shortly after President Barack Obama canceled his appearance at a morning rally in Florida to fly back to Washington to oversee the government's response to the hurricane from the White House. Obama also canceled campaign events scheduled for Tuesday.
Besides suspending rallies, Romney's campaign also was considering sending him to New Jersey later in the week, where he could meet with victims and survey storm damage with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a top Romney ally.
The move would mimic Romney's actions after the Republican National Convention in Tampa., Fla., in late August, which was cut short because of Hurricane Irene. He toured storm damage in Louisiana with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, another top supporter.
Republicans concede that the storm essentially pushes a pause button on the momentum Romney had been building in key states. But aides insist he is in a strong position in critical battlegrounds like Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Iowa, but acknowledge Virginia could be a problem. Romney was forced to cancel three rallies planned for Virginia on Sunday. It was unclear whether he'll be able to return before the election.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who was traveling with Romney, said Monday that the campaign was reviewing its plans "minute by minute," but downplayed the impact of the storm on Romney's chances of winning the election.
"It's been a long campaign and I think the issues are pretty much cemented in peoples' minds right now," Priebus said. "The first thing is making sure that people in the path of the storm are safe," Priebus said.